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Being inspired by another Facebook group, Christen Quijano created the Clean Up North Haven” page to organize cleanups throughout town and spread environmental awareness. (Photo courtesy of Christen Quijano )
Ever since she was a young child, Christen Quijano has been aware of the environment and the effects people can have on it. She grew up on a busy road in East Haven and she and her family would take a daily walk, doing their part to keep the area they lived in clean.
“We’d always bring garbage bags because there was so much litter,” says Christen. “Picking it up is one of the easiest things you can do. It stinks that someone threw it out, but if you walk past it, you’re just as guilty as the one who threw it out.”
Though Christen now lives in North Haven, she remained involved in her hometown of East Haven through the Clean Up East Haven group that hosts monthly cleanups throughout town. Seeing that litter was becoming an issue in North Haven, Christen was inspired to start her own group.
“I talked to the creator of the East Haven group and he encouraged me to start it,” says Christen. “I spoke with First Selectman Mike Freda, who was really supportive. There’s a litter problem all over North Haven and if we can get residents involved, especially our youth, it could help them see it’s more than a coffee cup thrown out the window, it’s blight.”
Christen hosted the first Clean Up North Haven event in October and she was excited to see that a number of students volunteered. Wanting to be able to reach a wider audience, Christen created a Facebook page for the group where she announces dates for cleanups and collects feedback on areas that need help.
Clean Up North Haven’s next cleanup is Saturday, Nov. 7 from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Tidal Marsh Trail. Volunteers can meet in front of the Nature Preserve (behind Target) at 9 a.m. All supplies—gloves, masks, safety vests, and garbage bags—will be provided.
“The support has been amazing between the first selectman, Public Works [Department] providing us with supplies, and the residents,” says Christen. “I also worked with Superintendent [of Schools Patrick] Stirk to make sure we have the appropriate paperwork for it to count as students’ community service hours.”
This will be the last event of 2020 before the group takes a break for winter. While the cleanups will be on pause during the cold-weather months, Christen still has plans to continue to build the group. She is hoping to hold a logo contest, find sponsors for the group, and get T-shirts for volunteers.
“I look at our first two as my practice,” says Christen. “We’ll be ready to take it to the next level in the spring. I’d love to get sponsors like the East Haven group. That group also has local businesses who bring the volunteers coffee and the sponsors are all on their T-shirts.”
Going forward, Christen also plans to apply for grants for the group and the town as well. Her background is in public health and community planning and she looks forward to using her professional experience to help her community.
Christen graduated from Southern Connecticut State University in 2008 where she studied public health and environmental science. She worked as a health and wellness program planner for senior citizens at St. Raphael’s for five years before she had children and since returning to work, Christen has been an analyst for health information.
Having worked in the healthcare field and studied public health, Christen has seen the effects of COVID-19 on people’s mental health, particularly children’s. Due to this, she decided to pursue her master’s in school counseling.
“When I turned 40 and hit the 20-year mark at the hospital, I said I have to do something for myself,” says Christen. “These kids are going to need a lot of guidance through next phases in their life, especially because of the virus. I’m taking it one class at a time, but I’ll do it.”
Christen has two children, 9-year-old Valentina and 6-year-old David, who both attend Montowese Elementary School. She recently got involved with the PTA there, starting the first-ever Environmental Committee. Living across from the school, Christen has continued the habits she began when she was little.
“When I take a walk on Sundays, I take a garbage bag and clean up litter, like I did when I was a kid,” says Christen. “The goal is to have the community’s awareness of environmental health raised, especially with youth. I’d love to have an educational aspect in the schools.”
Seeing the students sitting outside during the day inspired another environmentally project, The Giving Tree Project, for Christen and her new committee. After the extensive tree damage in town, Christen realized there were better places for the students to sit while they were in outdoor classrooms than on the ground.
“I approached the principal with the idea and she said, ‘Let’s do it,’ so I posted that we were looking for tree stumps on my page,” says Christen. “The response was phenomenal. I hooked ups with a family and the husband chopped the stumps to size and delivered them. We’re hoping to have them sanded down for seating for the students. It’s another teaching moment where kids can see that even a downed tree can still serve a purpose.”
Christen’s children have also gotten involved and are now working on ways to raise money to purchase copies of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein for classrooms or the library so the message can be shared with all of the classes. Her children also join Christen at the cleanups and the family hopes to continue to spread the word about being environmentally conscience.
“Especially during COVID, people were going to the parks and enjoying the outdoors, but leaving behind garbage next to overflowing trashcans,” says Christen. “There’s nothing else to do right now but use the parks and look how people treat them. We all have to treat Mother Nature with respect and not abuse her.”
Jenn McCulloch is the Correspondent for Zip06. Email Jenn at .