Local municipal and county officials joined business leaders for the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly Progress Through People Luncheon on Thursday at the Liberty County Community Complex in Midway. Sarah Visser, executive director for Keep Georgia Beautiful, was guest speaker.
Keep Liberty Beautiful Executive Director Sara Swida welcomed guestsand her colleague from Atlanta. She briefed everyone on the history of Keep Liberty Beautiful by explaining it was affiliated with Keep America Beautiful and Keep Georgia Beautiful. She said the national organization got its start in the 1950s with a goal of keeping the country clean.
“It hasn’t always been the case,” Swida said. “Our mission here is to provide community education and empower volunteers in our community to make our community the best it can be. That’s a very exciting mission … Our goals are litter prevention, waste reduction and, certainly, community improvement, and that includes community beautification.”
She said some people think community beautification is a “fluff” area, but added the community’s appearance is crucial to economic development. Swida was followed by Liberty County Board of Commissioners Chairman Donald Lovette, who welcomed everyone to the “SPLOST-sponsored” Liberty County Community Complex and John McIver auditorium. He repeated “SPLOST-sponsored” several times to emphasize the community center was paid for by the 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which voters will decide whether to renew in November.
Visser began by thanking Swida for the invitation to speak and noting how much she loves Liberty County and its beautiful marshes. After a brief discussion on how her office is staffed and operated, she told guests, “We fight dirty,” then explained the role of the Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation to prevent litter and promote recycling, water conservation and community green spaces.
“(Keep Georgia Beautiful) is very, very proud to be considered the cradle of Keep America Beautiful,” Visser said. “We have 77 affiliated agencies across the state. We represent about 75-80 percent of Georgia’s population through our affiliates.”
She said Swida invited her to talk about community appearance. She then asked guests a rhetorical question, “Why does community appearance matter?” No one attempted to answer, so she told them community appearance matters because it effects public health, crime, public safety and economic prosperity. In addition to eliminating sources for mosquitoes and other pests and vermin, she said studies have shown that community beautification areas are less likely to be littered. Community greening also is linked to improved mental and emotional health, she said.
“City kids who have a view of green outside their classroom window have better test scores,” Visser said. “Hospital patients with a view of green outside their window heal sooner … Curb appeal (from community greening) can account for 70 percent in retails sales, and downtown areas with tree canopies attract more downtown shoppers.”
She talked at length about the connection between blighted areas and crime, joking about what some have called “outdoor storage” — an old couch on the front porch or broken refrigerator in the yard. She said these areas tend to attract crime because they suggest nobody cares.
Visser said she was waiting for a more in-depth study about the effects of blighted areas on not just crime but also economic development. She concluded her remarks by praising Swida and what she and community volunteers are doing to make Liberty County beautiful. Swida thanked Visser for her remarks and her state-level support by presenting her with an herb garden in a large, wooden box.