By KATE HOGAN
Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online
LOWELL Yesterday morning, while most of their peers were still fast asleep, more than 20 UMass Lowell students were helping to give back to the city.
They were participating in the kickoff of Lowell's Great American Cleanup, by sprucing up the north bank of the Merrimack River at the University Avenue bridge.
The effort was sponsored by Keep America Beautiful and its local affiliate, Keep Lowell Beautiful.
The cleanup took place at various bridge intersections around the city, including the Aiken Street bridge and others.
Henri Marchand of the Lowell Plan feels particularly attached to the north bank of the Merrimack.
"This is my neighborhood," Marchand said. "There is a tremendous amount of unrealized potential."
Marchand said yesterday's goal was for the groups to work at each bridge, and to work their way down the riverbank to eventually meet.
Paul Marion, assistant director for community relations at UMass Lowell, recruited students from the football team, the Phi Sigma Rho sorority and the Delta Kappa Phi fraternity.
"The university wanted to get involved, because we particularly had an interest in the part of the riverbank adjoining the campus," Marion said.
"This is a lost piece of the riverbank, and we're hoping to improve it and make it safe so one day we'll have a continuous look, an asset to the campus, and part of the riverscape."
Marion said UMass Lowell students contribute thousands of hours each year to community service. He believes it helps them to become leaders in the community.
UMass Lowell Assistant football coach Corey Wenger encouraged his players to participate in the cleanup.
"They go to school here in Lowell, and with all the things they do in Lowell, the more they put into the community, the better they feel," Wenger said. "The more roots they put down, the better."
Wenger said that since the entire football coaching staff has only been together a year, they are trying to get themselves and the players involved in the community.
"We want the community to know we're here, and we also want to have roots," he said.
"Our coach told us this was available today, and we're always involved in helping the community," said Jim Dineen of Ashford, Conn., a freshman football player. "You walk by here and it's disgusting, and you always think someone should do something, and this opportunity came up."
Charlie Ferlauto, a junior football player from Haverhill, was the only commuter student who came to Lowell for the cleanup; the rest live on campus.
"I knew I had a good reason to be here, once I got here to see it," Ferlauto said.
Michelle Watson, a sophomore Phi Sigma Rho sister from Tewksbury, is her sorority's community-service representative.
She brought some of her sorority sisters with her. The girls wanted to give back to the university, even though they are not recognized by the school as an organization.
"It helps us to help the school, and it makes my walk home nicer," Watson said. "It directly affects us to help the campus, and maybe people driving by on a Saturday morning will see us, and they might come out next time."
Kelvin Juarbe, a freshman football player from Boston, summed up the effort perfectly.
"Every little bit helps," he said.