Cleaning up Fitchburg: one hashtag at a time

A collection of the volunteers who have donated their time to participate in #TrashBagChallenge

A collection of the volunteers who have donated their time to participate in #TrashBagChallenge

By Kate Domenichella

On Friday, April 24, I was reached out to by Alex Moore, a resident of Fitchburg and an active voice on all of the Fitchburg, Massachusetts related Facebook pages. She thought it would be a great idea to spread the word to the students of Fitchburg State University and get as many of us as possible involved in the cleaning up of the Fitchburg community.

Nick Squailia selfies for the camera

Nick Squailia selfies for the camera

The residents of Fitchburg, Massachusetts are coming together to clean up their community and make it a better place for everyone to enjoy. The challenge was started by Nick Squailia who bought trash bags and gloves and headed out to John Fitch Highway where he collected two bags of trash and then took a selfie. Thanks to inspiration from Beth Nash, a resident of Leominster– Kevin Lynch, a resident of Fitchburg, developed the hashtag #CleanUpFitchburg.

From there, #CleanUpFitchburg and #TrashBagChallenge went viral.

The “Discussing Fitchburg” Facebook group has been beneficial in bringing together the people of Fitchburg. This page is where the #TrashBagChallenge and #CleanUpFitchburg selfies have been posted, the members can comment on one another’s statuses about their cleanups for the day, the next guerrilla cleanup can be organized, as well as other things relating to Fitchburg.

Photo from Bess Cucchiara, taken from the #CleanUpFitchburg album

Photo from Bess Cucchiara, taken from the #CleanUpFitchburg album

Moore reached out to the members of this page and asked them for their valuable input on how important this challenge is to rid the city of Fitchburg of their infamous title, “The Dirty ‘Burg”.

Nick Squailia said, “I love our community and I am here to stay. There are so many great people in this city and this challenge has made me proud to be their neighbor. I hope it [#TrashBagChallenge] will inspire others to do something positive and take pride in our city not just one time or one day, but all year long.”

Sam Squailia, Mr. Squailia’s wife, said, “We’ve already reached hundreds of people. I feel if we keep this momentum going, we could reach thousands. The cleaner we keep our streets and sidewalks– the better we will feel about our city, and the less inclined people will be to trash it.”

Ilana Dean, a resident of Fitchburg, mother, and business owner, said, “I got involved with the challenge because I am an active member of this page, and want to do what I can to make this city a better place, one step at a time. I hate hearing all the negative posts about our city, and I try to defend it as much as possible… Too many people are reactive rather than proactive, and I want to be proactive.”

Photo from the City of Fitchburg album #CleanUpFitchburg

Photo from the City of Fitchburg album #CleanUpFitchburg

Dean said that she grew up in Pepperell and was always left with the stigma that Fitchburg is the ghetto and that she swore she would never live there. This summer, she will have resided in Fitchburg for the past 15 years.

Dean then said, “There are problems everywhere, and far worse than here. So many people dwell on the negative, they feed into the stigma. There is so much we can do as a community. Get involved, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.”

A member of the discussion page, Patty Minko, shared her thoughts about the project: “That would be great to get students involved in this project.  They’d be able to experience first hand how everyone working together through this grassroots effect turns into positive attitudes regarding this city.”

Mayor of Fitchburg, Lisa Wong, partaking in #TrashBagChallenge

Mayor of Fitchburg, Lisa Wong, partaking in #TrashBagChallenge

Julianne Gonzalez, mother of 3 and business woman, explains, “I get overwhelmed by the negativity I hear about Fitchburg and jumped at the opportunity to participate in a positive movement! As has been said before, ‘before you complain, have you volunteered?’”

Preston Wilbur, property owner and voter said, “I was motivated to get involved because we all have two choices- we can complain that this city is dirty, filthy, and everything else negative… or we can shut up and do our part to do what we can to clean it up, to help where we can.”

While the “selfie” generally has a negative connotation, #CleanUpFitchburg and #TrashBagChallenge is giving it a good name. The City of Fitchburg’s Facebook page has a dedicated photo album to this massive cleanup– #CleanUpFitchburg. There are hundreds of “likes” and comments where Fitchburg residents broadcast how proud they are of the community in which they live and are happy that they are taking part in a challenge to rid the city of its nickname.

Fitchburg State's Hammond building, photo from

Fitchburg State’s Hammond building, photo from

At Fitchburg State University we have a beautiful campus that deserves to be cleaned and treated with respect. Keeping this movement inspired by the Squailias in mind, we can all do our part in ensuring the quality of our campus grounds are not littered with trash while we move out. Over the summer, students should make an effort in attending some of the events, if not just to gain more information about the city where they attend school. Think about it– what college student hasn’t selfied at least once? Make this one for a good cause.

Want to take part in #CleanUpFitchburg and  #TrashBagChallenge? You can request to join the Discussing Fitchburg group to get the latest event dates and times. If you want to check out other #CleanUpFitchburg and #TrashBagChallenge selfies, visit The City of Fitchburg’s photo album- #CleanUpFitchburg.

Lets make Fitchburg a cleaner community for this generation and the generations to come.

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