On Saturday morning, two groups of volunteers participated in a local clean-up effort organized by Blain Smothermon, a teacher for Burton School District and founder of the non-profit Freedom First America. The groups collectively filled dozens of large garbage bags with debris that had been tossed along Henderson Avenue or in the dirt field behind the Barn Theater. At noon, the groups met at Veterans Park to have lunch and chat about the day's success.
“It's awesome to get these kids and adults together working on a unified project like this and just helping the community,” said Smothermon.
Smothermon explained that this was the first event he was able to host through his non-profit Freedom First America. He started the organization in October, but was finally approved by the state as an official non-profit in February.
“Our whole goal is to provide service to the community,” said Smothermon. “This is our first organized event that we have done after being officially established in February. We are going to continue expanding it. We want to do scholarships for kids who will be majoring in medical fields, law enforcement, teaching, things like that. It’s about advocating for the values of freedom and helping out the community. Getting kids involved is actually the most important thing to me.”
WIth help from some of his friends and fellow educators, and with the support of Councilmember Daniel Penaloza, Smothermon was able to organize a large group of volunteers, the youngest of which were 12 years old. The teachers who joined in the event selected a few of the students and asked them to participate. The students got permission from parents before participating on Saturday morning and COVID-19 guidelines were followed as closely as possible.
“It took all of us working together, but it was specifically Blain,” said Councilman Penaloza. “It was his idea to put this together and he really led the work. The teachers are doing this out of their school time and that is powerful to me. That is really dedication to the community. I am just supporting them, they deserve all the credit.”
Smothermon led the largest group on a clean-up down Henderson from Veterans Park down to Westwood Street and around Veterans Park. He said that some people would stop and say thank you to the group as they cleaned the sides of the streets, and thinks that hearing the thank you’s from the public was empowering for the kids and affirms to them that they are making a difference in their community.
Penaloza led a smaller group on the opposite side of town in the dirt field behind the Barn Theater. The group walked along the levee towards Murray Park and removed trash along the levee banks.
Smothermon said he chose the two locations as they were the safest for the younger volunteers. He said he plans to beautify areas like the Tule River, but those clean-up events will probably be for the adults.
Ultimately, the day was a success and the two groups collectively filled dozens of garbage bags with litter. Just before noon, the group led by Penaloza headed to Veterans Park to meet with Smothermon and the other volunteers for lunch.
“This is beautiful,” said Penaloza. “To be able to come back and be with each other and build community is what we really wanted to do. We wanted to empower the students and really everyone in Porterville to care about the city and beautify it. We have to care about our community and educate the community not to throw trash, but this is amazing. It is nice to come together. Starting June 15, these events will be more public and we want to get more youth engaged in the community through this process and get some more non-profits involved too.”
For more information on how to get involved and to stay updated with Freedom First America,