When Ronald Offer Jr. began fixing up lawns and picking up trash in Park Heights as part of the Clean and Green Team four years ago, he and a crew walked to each job site in the heat, pushing an old lawnmower, a wheelbarrow and little else.
“We started from the bottom and worked our way up,” said Offer, 36, who previously fixed up roofs as a carpenter. “Look at us now.”
Offer is among five crew members who are moving from part-time to full-time jobs with the neighborhood organization after an investment from LifeBridge Health, the firm announced on Thursday. The health care company also purchased a truck, lawnmower and other equipment for the group, which began as a project of the nonprofit Park Heights Renaissance organization.
Marcus Pollock, executive director of Park Heights Renaissance, said at a press conference at a local playground on Thursday that the Clean and Green Team used to be a “rag tag, motley crew” that used the most basic of equipment.
“As you can see, that has changed quite a bit,” Pollock said, gesturing to the five men wearing navy blue uniforms next to him.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said LifeBridge’s investment is indicative of the kind of public-private partnerships Baltimore needs to revitalize the city.
“LifeBridge is a part of this community,” Pugh said. “They want to see change. They want to see the revival of Park Heights. They plan to continue to invest in Park Heights.”
“The city can’t do this work by itself,” she said.
Brian White, the executive vice president of LifeBridge Health, said the investment was a celebration of the company’s 20th anniversary. He said he is excited to see the Clean and Green Team expand from Park Heights and go “neighborhood by neighborhood” to “beautify our community.”
The team will expand to Roland Park, Owings Mills, Reisterstown, Towson, Westminster and areas in between.
Pugh said the partnership requires residents to help out for it to be successful.
“It’s not just about what we do to clean up the trash,” she said. “It’s about what all of us will do. Trash doesn’t get on the ground by itself.”
“You should not allow people to walk by your homes dropping trash in your neighborhoods,” Pugh added.
After the mayor, White, Councilmen Isaac "Yitzy" Schleifer and Bernard C. “Jack” Young had posed with brooms for the news media, Antawane Williams, 36, stood outside of the playground beaming.
Williams is in his third year as a member of the Clean and Green Team after working as a janitor at an elementary school. He is one of the five employees who will begin working five days a week and said he takes pride in the crew’s work.
“So many people have walked by and said, ‘Y’all cut that? It looks beautiful,’” he said. “And it’s not even finished yet. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.”
If people saw before and after pictures of the group’s landscaping, Williams said, “they would be like, ‘Man, they’re some professionals.’”
Offer said residents of Park Heights “give us props and give us the utmost respect because they know we’re from the neighborhood and doing something good.”
Charles LeGrant Jr., 37, said he used to drive forklifts for Under Armour and is grateful to now have a job improving his own neighborhood every day.
“I’m going to be honest with you,” he said. “The best thing I like about this job is giving back, man.”