Berrien Springs resident starts nonprofit that aims to clean up public spaces

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

BERRIEN SPRINGS — As of Wednesday, Weko Beach has a lot less debris thanks to Joel Paquette.

CleanPiece, a nonprofit that targets the removal of trash from public places in Southwest Michigan, was started by Paquette and has been at work on several beaches, parks, roadways and other recreational areas since early June.

As the founder and manager of CleanPiece, Paquette said he was inspired to create an organization that would provide a service to not only the environment, but the business community.

“We are supported entirely by local businesses,” the Berrien Springs resident said. “Every public space cleaned by CleanPiece is a direct result of a business sponsorship.”

Each site is cleaned up in a sponsoring business’ name. Two temporary signs are then displayed on site showcasing the company’s name and logo while CleanPiece’s crew is performing the service.

A photo album is then uploaded onto CleanPiece’s social media accounts after the site is cleaned, showcasing the service that was performed in the company’s name. The business sponsorship includes pay for Paquette’s two employees, the price of gas for the drive to the location, as well as any costs associated with the disposal.

Paquette said the location is chosen by each sponsoring business – from right outside their office to a nearby beach.

Benton Harbor resident Adonis Cloy is one of two employees who helps Paquette clean up at each location.

Cloy said he learned of CleanPiece through his pastor, who liked the idea of preserving the environment.

“I’ve been here since it first started,” Cloy said. He said that picking up trash can be helpful to people and not just nature. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt or nothing – like if a kid were to step on a piece of glass.”

While it is Paquette and two others who are a part of the nonprofit, others have joined in on the cleanup.

“We always encourage people who are part of the community to come help out,” Paquette said. “It’s their land, too. Sometimes people come out, but it varies from project to project. The first event we had about 20 people, since then we average about five.”

The first business to take part in CleanPiece was a Berrien Springs gym.

CrossFit Berrien owner Jeff Tatarchuk said he was approached by Paquette and jumped at the idea. Tatarchuk said he liked that Paquette’s business model helped local businesses.

“It was right in line with what we are about,” Tatarchuk said. “We spend a lot of time at the beach and we want it clean. I’m really proud of Joel and his vision to create a sustainable nonprofit. I’m just honored to see it happen right before my eyes.”

Since its first cleaning project, the nonprofit has completed several others with sponsors including local construction businesses, hardware stores and a church.

“My favorite part about doing this is being able to make a difference on public lands,” Paquette said. “Being able to say you did something about that land, it feels good to say that.”

Businesses interested in sponsoring a cleanup can visit www.cleanpiece.org by clicking on the donate tab and submitting their information.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@thehp.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 17, 2015)

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