Pick Up America, Step Forward Day get students involved

Saturday, August 20, 2011 | 8:38 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Not even the stormy weather could put a stop to Step Forward Day, a volunteering opportunity for students at MU.

Because of the unexpected rain, the initial meeting place was switched from Tiger Plaza to the lounge in the MU Student Center, but more than 250 students still stood in line to participate.

“We sent emails to PA's and CA's because most of our freshmen live in the residence halls. Our volunteers were also waving and catching students on the street,” Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Cathy Scroggs said.

Freshman English major Nathan Ellermeier didn’t know which volunteer site to choose. There were 16 nonprofit organizations open to student volunteers, including the City of Columbia Volunteer Services Department, the Food Bank for Central & Northeast Missouri, Pick Up America, Columbia's Public Works Department, Stormwater Outreach & Education, the Office of Neighborhood Services, The Intersection, Access Arts, Boys & Girls Club, the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri, Coyote Hill Christian Children's Home, Boy Scouts of America, the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture and Columbia Second Chance. Ellermeier ended up choosing to work with Pick Up America.

“I think I made the right choice,” said Ellermeier, after walking two miles along East Broadway. He picked up pieces of trash on the road with the founder of Pick Up America, Davey Rogner. The group got started at about 9 a.m.

Rogner and other members of Pick Up America have traveled 1,200 miles on foot from Maryland to Ohio since last year. They continued the journey this year with a brightly colored bus and a jeep with a trailer. Their destination is Colorado.

“Our purpose is to raise attention about a sort of consumer system that is taking resources out of the landfill, using it once and throwing away straight to the landfill," Rogner said. "So, we are going to find the resources that are more recycling, more reusing, just generally a more efficient system where we are using our material in a way where it is not just 'take it to the ground.' This is a performance for people to better understand the concept of zero waste.”

Rogner is an environmentalist and artist from Silver Spring, Md. He graduated from the University of Maryland-College Park, with a bachelor's degree in environmental science and policy. He founded two environmental student groups before he graduated.

“Until we realize that our consumption is compromising the carrying capacity of our planet for humans who live here, we are just going to have a dying planet. So, I went out to feel it and clean it as much as possible,” Rogner said. He said his dream is to buy land, build his house and travel around to carry on the “take back the land" movement. Rogner emphasized the importance of recycling and environmental protection throughout the trip.

“There’s a lot that can be done,” Rogner said. “We sent man to the moon and to a space station, and that was 40 years ago. Our generation has iPhones, iPads and things that are much more advanced than before.”

Picking up litter across the nation is not Rogner's ultimate goal. He aims to establish a well-known nonprofit organization and seeks efficient resources for society. He hopes he can go back to school for a master’s degree.

Overall, the student response to Step Forward Day was positive. Morgan Sloan, a freshman chemical engineering student, said she had a great day and learned a lot about recycling from the experience.

“It’s a way to be part of the community," Scroggs said. "If you step forward, you can make a difference for people here, make a difference for children. Giving to others and service can change you."

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