Every weekend, a group of dedicated young people work to polish up Las Vegas’s image, both literally and figuratively. For the past three years, Shine City has brought together students from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV) every Friday and Saturday morning to tackle a community cleanup project. The sites range from parks, to vacant lots, to littered stretches of sidewalk.  While cleaning up trash and weeds is the primary work carried out by Shine City volunteers, the organization’s core goal is to foster a greater sense of community ownership.

The inspiration for Shine City, according to the organization’s president, John Everett, was to reverse the view of Las Vegas as “Sin City,” a place where no one feels inspired to do good for their neighbors. “Las Vegas is a very transient city. Nobody thinks of it as a permanent place.” This disconnected attitude is what Shine City works to change. “We not only improve the community through cleanups, but feel closer to it.”

Shine City playground

Shine City volunteers, John Everett center, having some fun after a cleanup at Jaycee Park.

Shine City: Cleanups and Connections

So far, Shine City volunteers have cleaned up 17 different locations throughout Las Vegas, periodically returning to past locations to make sure they stay clean. On an average Friday or Saturday morning, seven volunteers show up at 8 o’clock to pick up trash, pull weeds, and look for new areas in need of sprucing up. Sometimes, when joined by other community organizations, they can boast over 50 volunteers in the field, but cleanups are still completed even on days when just two people show up. How can a volunteer organization sustain that kind of momentum?

 “People tell us that when they clean up the city, they feel like they’re being cleaned themselves.”

On February 19th, Shine City volunteers cleaned up a long stretch of sidewalk on the corner of Maryland Parkway and E. Tropicana, near the UNLV campus where most of the volunteers go to school. As usual, volunteers worked in pairs, switching partners throughout the cleanup to socialize and get to know each other better. As they cleaned up the sidewalk, the group was excited to get 3 honks from passing cars—a sign of encouragement from the community they’re working so hard to connect with.

Those connections are already forming. “There are so many places in the city where I never would have got out and walked around if there wasn’t a cleanup there,” Everett said. But now he and other volunteers return to those places to try out restaurants they’ve noticed, hang out in parks they’ve cleaned or to simply explore what else the neighborhood has to offer.

Shine City forks

Shine City, planting hope and, also, plastic utensils…

More Opportunities to Serve

This deeper connection to the neighborhoods they’ve cleaned has also deepened volunteers’ commitment to community service.  “When you’re already giving back to the community by helping to clean it, you’re going to want to give more to it. You’re going to have that incentive to keep trying to improve it however you can.” Shine City is always looking for additional ways to get involved with the Las Vegas community, often lending a helping hand to other local charities, like Three Square, which provides box lunches for children struggling with hunger.

Shine City lunches

Shine City gets involved with as many other Las Vegas charities as possible.

In the end, though, Shine City always returns to its original mission: creating a reason for people to feel proud of and connected to their community by taking on the responsibility of keeping it clean. In fact, they’ve recently upped their game by adding a third project each week to accommodate would-be volunteers who aren’t free on Fridays or Saturdays. Everett is also busy experimenting with ways to spread the word about Shine City to groups beyond its core network of UNLV students.

Of course, it’s difficult to get people to commit to volunteering, but despite their fluctuating number of volunteers, Shine City’s cleanup projects seem to have a special appeal. Everett himself wasn’t sure he’d come back the first time he volunteered with Shine City, but working with his hands to transform a previously littered spot into a pleasant location made a strong impression on him. “Seeing that I made a difference made me want to come back a second time.” It’s what’s kept so many young people, often ridiculed for lacking a sense of genuine connection, coming back week after week to keep the city shining.

Shine City in box

Shine City is all about having fun while making a difference.

Budget Dumpster is your community-focused source for a dumpster rental in Las VegasThis is part of a series of articles shining a spotlight on organizations making a difference in the communities we service. If you know of another great organization, let us know in the comments!