CHARLESTON, W.Va. — What started back in January as a walk for his health has taken Ron Williams down a quite a few Charleston roads, where he has collected many “tokens” from travelers and residents alike, all bound for one destination: the Slack Street recycling facility.
Williams, the adult tennis director for the YMCA of the Kanawha Valley, began seeing an influx of garbage both at the YMCA facility and the surrounding area around the time of the Elk River chemical leak in early January. The YMCA swim team had established a recycling program years before, but it had slackened off during the closure of the recycling plant, and Williams saw an opportunity to renew those efforts.
Williams collects trash from both the YMCA and the surrounding area, including Houghton Drive, Centers Road, Hillcrest Drive and the median along Greenbrier Street an part of Kanawha Boulevard. He collected nearly 3,000 pounds of garbage in the month after the chemical leak, and said he still averages roughly 800 pounds each month of trash from the area around Yeager Airport that he sorts himself for recycling pickup.
“That whole area is the gateway to Charleston, and I don’t like seeing it like that. In my hometown, driving from the airport and seeing how clean it was — it just felt like you were entering somewhere,” said Williams, a native of Perth, Australia. “When I saw all that trash, I just knew I had to clean it up.”
Williams had another reason for making the daily trek along the hills surrounding the Y. A former runner, Williams was diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, an autoimmune disease that affects the peripheral nervous system. It causes numbness and tingling in the extremities, progressive muscle weakness, fatigue and abnormal sensation.
“I was in a depression for a couple of years because it was difficult to adjust to,” he said. “I was just sitting in my office one day and I said, ‘I’ve got to go for a walk.’ That’s really how it started, and it just coincided with what the swim team here had already been doing.”
Williams sorts all of the recyclables himself, and although the Slack Street facility has commended his work, he wants to do more. That’s why the YMCA has applied for a $34,000 grant through the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Recycling Assistance Program, “for the purpose of planning, initiating, expanding, or upgrading recycling programs, provide related public education programs, and assist in recycling market procurement efforts.”
Erin Adkins, marketing director for the YMCA, said Williams’ collections fall in line with some of the greater goals the YMCA has as a community-based organization.
“We have three different platforms that we stand for, and one of them is social responsibility,” Adkins said. “I think this exemplifies what it means to stand up and help our community, not just within the YMCA, but the community as a whole.”
Williams hopes that eventually the YMCA can filter more aluminum through its program and cash it in for more program funding opportunities. The Y also participates in the Adopt-a-Highway Program and is responsible for the portion of land from the 35th Street Bridge in Kanawha City to the University of Charleston. It will hold its next team cleanup Sept. 27.
Reach Lydia Nuzum at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.