Joanie Weidner wasn’t thinking about becoming a community activist, she simply got tired of seeing the trash pile up along Red Bank Road near her Kennedy Heights home. So one day in 1996, Weidner, resource assistant for the student government at the University, simply stopped her car and began picking up refuse. Now, 11 years later, she can claim five local and one national beautification award, but she’s still not sure exactly how it all happened.
“A lot of things came together,” she says. “I’m a lover of nature. Also, it was my first time to own a home. We got married later in life; this was our first home; we’d been saving for it and finally got it. Maybe there was a heightened sense of ‘This is where I live now,’ and it bothered me that it could look that way.
“I was just so angry. Why was it just so easy for these people to dismiss that they are part of this whole wonderful earth? And how could they disregard it? Well, there’s nothing I can do to change their actions, but I could do something about it.”
But it soon became apparent the job was too big for one person. So it was natural that in April 1999, Weidner and her husband Jeffry volunteered to be part of the Great American Clean-up in Kennedy Heights. Unfortunately, the only other people to show up were two organizers.
Far from defeated, Weidner stepped up her campaign. Aided by a grant from Invest in Neighborhoods, purchased yellow t-shirts, for which Jeffry designed a logo, and Litter Magic was born. By July, Weidner enlisted 30 volunteers and staged Litter Magic’s first clean-up event.
From that first event, things have grown significantly. Weidner now stages three clean-up events each year: in April as part of the Great American Clean-up, in July and again in October. Through July 2005, Litter Magic held 16 clean-up events, drawing 550 volunteers, who collected 1,013 bags of trash along with tires, appliances and other refuse.
All of that from an organization that is, essentially, just one person: Weidner. She stores all of Litter Magic’s supplies in her basement, she keeps the records, writes grants and applies to various organizations to gain recognition for the volunteer’s efforts. That, too has been successful: At last count, Litter Magic has won five top awards from Keep Cincinnati Beautiful as well as second place honors nationally from Keep America Beautiful in 2005.
And in helping her community reestablish some pride in its appearance, Weidner discovered a feeling of community unlike anything she’d previously experienced. She coordinates volunteers at her church and rallied neighbors to save an endangered patch of woods. Still, to those in the community, she’s most closely linked to litter.
“I had a lady introduce me to someone,” Weidner recalls. “She said ‘That’s the little litter lady.’ She didn’t know my name, but she knew that. Sometimes I think ‘I wish there was something more dramatic that I could be, not just litter.’ But I think it’s OK.”