Litter Patrol

Malini Wijesinghe ’18 and classmates pick up trash near the Bradley campus. (Photo by Duane Zehr)

Matt Hawkins
May 1, 2018

She always sees trash.

Wherever she goes, Malini Wijesinghe ’18 focuses on it. Whether it’s a Target parking lot or a national park, that’s what catches the St. Paul, Minn., native’s attention. She organized a cleanup group as a child. As she settled into Bradley life, she noticed litter and decided to do something about it.

“I can’t not see trash,” said the Spanish, biochemistry and philosophy triple major. “I’ve seen people litter right in front of me, so I wanted to try to change people’s mindset about it. If we care about our community, others will see that and will want to follow our example.”

Wijesinghe and a few tennis teammates began the Bradley University Clean Up Crew during the 2017 fall semester. They dedicated an hour a week to tidying neighborhoods near campus and invited friends to join their weekly walks.

Efforts earned Wijesinghe Bradley athletics’ 2018 Carle Grose Service Award, which recognizes student-athletes for volunteerism.

“Peoria is a great city to show off,” said nutrition and wellness graduate student Max Deutz, of Marshall, Minn. “Part of city pride is to keep it clean and encourage others to do the same.”

The group also reached into the neighborhood for volunteers. Second graders at nearby Whittier Primary School joined them on several occasions the college students considered valuable education and mentoring experiences.

“Kids had a blast,” Wijesinghe said. “We got them thinking about things they understand, like trash on their playground, and then we showed them how easy it is to make an impact.”

Students’ work caught the attention of city leadership who launched several communitywide beautification initiatives in recent years. Clean Up Crew received support from the Mayor’s Litter Committee through supplies and a visit from mayor Jim Ardis.

These experiences showed students the value of giving back to their “home.”

“It’s easy to get caught up life as a student, but we gain more appreciation for Peoria when we get out, meet new people and work in the community,” Wijesinghe said.