Since its inception 20 years ago as a city-county committee to help create a plan to clean up the community, Keep Troup Beautiful has grown into and independent group promoting awareness and hosting county-wide cleanup events.
Troup Clean and Beautiful began in 1992 as a committee with designated members from LaGrange and Troup County to help provide LaGrange City Council with a plan to reduce waste. It lead not only to the creation of a new group, but the county’s recycling center.
Emily Joseph, wife of then-Mayor Chris Joseph, was an initial member of the committee. She and her husband had just attended a meeting as part of Leadership Georgia about the environment where they toured Gwinett County’s recycling facility.
“They were very involved in Keep America Beautiful,” she said. “We felt that could be an asset for us also.”
The committee soon brought the recommendation for a recycling center to local leaders. Funded through a Callaway Foundation grant and local businesses, the group took charge of creating the center, which members felt was a major tool to help cut down on trash in the community.
“I feel like if the county is more clean, the city is more clean, it will appeal to more people, and help with tourism and industry,” Joseph said. “I have friends that go on a website before they go somewhere and check out the litter in that area, and they will not go somewhere where there is a lot of litter. I feel if we’re trying to attract industry, and they see litter all along the streets, it’s not appealing.”
Soon after the group’s creation, it sought certification through Keep America Beautiful to officially become an affiliate. Troup Clean and Beautiful was certified in October 1992. One of the first things the now-certified group did was host its first Bring One for the Chipper program to mulch Christmas trees, an annual tradition it has carried since.
Being an affiliate gave the group access to programs and tools, including taking litter inventories to assess how much trash was strewn throughout the county.
“I remember going out and actually taking pictures and counting the amount of trash in areas,” Joseph said.
In 1999, Troup Clean and Beautiful was officially renamed Keep Troup Beautiful. Although executive director Doris Jefferson said some people still refer to it by its previous name, most people now are aware of the group.
“We still get people asking, ‘What do you do,’” Jefferson said. “.. But I think we’ve certainly made an impact over the last six or seven years, and people recognize the name a lot more now.”
Jefferson took over as director of the group 10 years ago. Originally, it wasn’t a passion project, instead she was assigned it by Associating Management, which oversaw Keep Troup Beautiful along with other non-profits at the time. However, Jefferson soon became attached to the work.
“I was fortunate enough to work with KTB along with other organizations and I became close to them and the people,” Jefferson said. “So when the management company and KTB decided they needed to move out on their own, I was given the opportunity to work with just KTB. It’s very near and dear to my heart now.”
Jefferson works with a board of up to 26 people, currently 22 people are serving, designated from across the county. Michael Markle Andrews has served on the board for the past few years, appointed by West Point City Council, and Jefferson said Andrews has put in countless hours of service with KTB.
“I’ve always been very passionate about litter prevention and recycling and cannot remember not feeling that way,” Andrews said.
“She even takes her own trash away from the restaurant,” Jefferson said.
“I do. I take it and recycle it,” Andrews said with a laugh.
Both said they’ve seen growth in most of KTB’s activities over the years. Cans for Cash, a program the group kicked off with Habitat for Humanity in 2007, has seen tremendous increases in participation.
Andrews said they asked recycling center officials how many cans the center receives in a month, which was 20,000, and set a goal in the month of the first Cans for Cash in 2007 to double the amount of cans recycled. The response was far greater than they thought, with more than 250,000 cans brought in.
Each subsequent year the group has set a higher goal than what came in the previous year, and each year collections have exceeded the goal. Last year, the goal of 780,000 cans was more than doubled with 1.86 million cans turned in during Cans for Cash. The contest, sponsored by Novelis, also has brought more than $40,000 to the community, Jefferson added.
The Great American Cleanup is an annual event where volunteers pledge to clean up trash and litter across the county. It has continued to draw out more people each year with more trash collected each year.
Last year brought a record 3,000 volunteers who spent 12,000 hours collecting 16 tons of trash.
This year’s event is set for April 13 in LaGrange for the city and county cleanup, and April 20 in West Point.
Although Joseph has not been involved with Keep Troup Beautiful since the early years, she has paid attention to the work the group has done.
“I am so proud of work that they’ve done and that they are able keep it going,” she said.
Joseph said KTB has made a difference county-wide and not through only the events it hosts and programs it sponsors, but by raising awareness of the importance of keeping Troup County clean. She credits projects like the annual lake cleanup and increase in recycling drop-off areas to KTB’s influence.
KTB also works in some local schools and with some recycling clubs to help promote recycling awareness. Jefferson said that the upcoming generation is bringing in brighter ideas for cleanliness and recycling, and influencing their parents.
“As the younger kids are growing up, we see less litter and more recycling,” Jefferson said. “They’re being taught that in school and putting it to work.”
Andrews said that promoting people in the community to keep it clean and recycle is why KTB exists. Although there is still progress to make, the group is seeing it’s message work.
“That’s part of community involvement,” she said. “Getting people to make a better Troup County.”