Youths target Gardere neighborhood for cleanup

As some of their friends lounged around in front of a television early Saturday, members of a Gardere youth football team and a dance team joined with children from the National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program to clean up the neighborhoods along Skysail and Ned avenues.

For Jeremiah Wannamaker, 11, a wide receiver for the Gardere Packers, it was a chance to pick up trash in his neighborhood. He said people equate dirty neighborhoods as bad areas, and he wants to improve his neighborhood’s reputation.

“I’m looking forward to giving back to my community,” Wannamaker said.

It was the first time the Gardere Youth Alliance, which includes the football and dance teams as members, joined the Gardere Cleanup, football coach Darin Fontenette said. He said they hope to continue bringing the children out every year to teach them responsibility for their neighborhoods.

“This is our way of giving back to the people who have been giving to our organization,” said dance team coach Kena Rosemore, 32, referring to the fact that all equipment and uniforms used by children in the Gardere Youth Alliance are donated by community members and groups.

The 40-50 children from the Youth Alliance were joined by 56 girls in the Youth Challenge Program. The program, based at the National Guard camp at Carville, offers at-risk adolescents ages 16 to 18 years an opportunity to pass their high school equivalency test, learn life skills and job training and discover leadership and responsible citizenship in a military-like environment.

After receiving marching orders from youth leaders and Sheriff’s Office officials, the dozens of kids mobilized for the cleanup swept through the neighborhoods like scavenger ants.

They picked up everything in their path with grabbers and dropped the trash in orange trash bags, including the ubiquitous beer cans and bottles in addition to several oddities — including diapers, underwear, slippers and pieces of a shattered windshield.

Adult volunteers walked with them and sheriff’s deputies kept an eye on the groups from their patrol units and ATVs.

James Sanyang, 10, a wide receiver and middle linebacker for the Packers, said the team members were happy to be part of the cleanup.

“We were helping our community because half our football team lives here and we want to help them,” Sanyang said.

Fontenette blasted Christian rap music from speakers in a trailer he pulled behind his pickup truck, prompting some residents to step outside to see what was going on. In some cases, they joined in to help with the cleanup effort.

One woman, Sylvia Jones, 55, said people littering in the street and yards is a big problem in Gardere and can feed the image of the neighborhood being a problem area.

“That’s a blessing that they have their mind on being clean,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Chandler Loupe, whose council district includes the Gardere area, was also on hand Saturday, passing out water with Capt. Andrew Stevens, commander of the Sheriff’s Office Gardere substation.

Before the group left the park to start the cleanup, Loupe said he is close to realizing one of the dreams he’s had since he took office in 2008 — to have sidewalks along Gardere Lane.

Loupe said getting the sidewalks would allow children to walk and ride their bicycles on the sidewalk instead of on the busy thoroughfare.

The state Department of Transportation and Development will handle the concrete work needed while the city-parish will pay for the work done to the drainage culverts, Loupe said.

Follow Ryan Broussard on Twitter @ryanmbroussard.