South Pas Teens Clean Parks For MLK Day

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South Pas residents Will Shin (from left), Aidan Donnelly, Avik Gautam, Gus Eddy, Declan Swift, Ian Marciel, Aidan Hilger, Henry Fogel and Will Guy hold up their bags of collected trash in Arroyo Park on Jan. 20.
Photos by Kristen Swift

For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, known nationally as a day of service, nine young men from South Pasadena, eight of them from South Pas High, decided to come together to clean up local parks on their day off from school on Monday.

MLK Day is a federal holiday, observed each year on the third Monday in January. It celebrates the Jan. 15 birthday of the civil-rights leader and his legacy to improve communities. 

According to parent and chaperone Kristen Swift, the group “Lion’s Heart 2023” was formed around two years ago by parent Traci Fleming, and it uses an online platform called Lion’s Heart to locate service needs in their community. 

Lion’s Heart is a national nonprofit that connects sixth- through 12th-grade students with local volunteer opportunities. Through the website lionsheartservice.org, teens find service opportunities near their homes, track service hours and connect with peers and export their volunteer portfolio to use on college and scholarship applications.

“We started this a couple of years ago just to get our boys out doing things, kind of off their computers, off their video games and doing things,” said Swift. “They like it because they get to help people but they also get to be together, and so it’s a double win for them.” 

Aidan Hilger (from left), Aidan Donnelly, Henry Fogel and Declan Swift clean up Arroyo Park.

Over 2 ½ hours, the group meticulously cleaned up the Arroyo Park baseball field area and Garfield Park. Trash collected include a variety of water bottles, bottle caps, cigarette butts, micro plastics and even a dead mouse on the baseball field. 

SPHS freshman Declan Swift said he felt his group helped make a difference to the parks, areas in which they often spend time. 

“I just feel more connected to the parks in a way because I feel like I made them a bit better,” said Swift. “It made me feel better about myself and what we were doing.”

His classmate, Aidan Hilger, said they primarily used gloved hands to collect the trash, and that there was more litter than he initially expected.

“I really felt that it’s important,” said Aidan. “MLK Day is a day of service and we owe it to him and the rest of our community to help out in some way. We decided this would be a great way to give back to the community.”

The group’s main focus is cleanups in parks and nature areas. According to Swift, the group previously helped to clean the Los Angeles River and plant gardens. The kids also sang Christmas Carols for senior citizens and cheered walkers at the Pasadena Humane Society’s Wiggle Waggle Walk to raise money for shelter animals.