Rawlins had been thinking about doing additional volunteer work with Keep DeKalb Beautiful and decided Indian Creek would become her project.
That’s when she found that trash was just the surface of the problem.
Around the school’s grounds she found plenty of evidence that it had long been a dumping ground for neighborhood trash and a haven for drug use and prostitution.
“What I saw was a beautiful area that was being destroyed by humans with their garbage,” Rawlins said. “It was a shock.”
Rawlins, who was a 25-year convention and trade show manager, said she knew it would be a challenge, but she was determined to get the school grounds cleaned.
She corralled an army of volunteers, including teachers and many of the school’s 1,065 students, to begin to transform the grounds. Many of these students are from refugee families, and more than 50 languages are spoken in their homes.
Since March, more than 1,500 volunteer hours have been logged in cleaning up the school grounds.
Over two cleanup days, more than 3,000 pounds of garbage, including sofas, tents, mattresses and lots of drug paraphernalia, were collected. Paths were carved out of mazes of garbage. Extensive black mold was removed from the outside wall of one of the school’s buildings. Windows were washed and mulch was spread.
On Oct. 13, the volunteers will be back for another massive cleanup. Rawlins said they will be working from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and will need all the help they can get.
“If we could get another 200 people, we could finish the project,” Rawlins said.
Anyone can volunteer. Gloves, bags and other supplies will be provided. They also need volunteers with gas chain saws who can cut down small trees and branches.
Rawlins said the primary job is to finish cleaning the woods of garbage and vegetation so Georgia Power can install security lights, a recommendation of DeKalb County Police.
“We can also repair the fences where people are coming in,” she said. “You get it cleaned out and two days later, the stuff comes back.”
Jeremy Lewis, executive director of the Clarkston Development Foundation, is a cleanup volunteer regular.
“We’re really pleased that the community is working together to make changes in that space,” he said. “We just want to be supportive of that.”
School system spokesman Jeff Dickerson said much of the illicit activity Rawlins described has been occurring after school hours and on weekends on “part of the campus that would not be considered the campus proper.”
School Principal Toni Campbell said that people use the wooded area of the school as a cut-through from nearby apartments to Indian Creek Drive, leaving litter in their wake.
Dickerson said the school district is doing the best job it can of policing school buildings and campuses. He said the areas adjacent to them is really more the role of the community and the police department.
“I think that what we’re seeing here is a school going over and beyond and working together to clean up this area, and that’s to be applauded,” he said.
Campbell, who is new to Indian Creek this school year, said the cleanup effort is building a greater sense of community at the school.
“Yes, we have had some issues with trash and things of that nature,” she said. “But we are all working together. At the last cleanup, there were little girls wearing dresses out there with rakes.”
Rawlins said the school system’s police department, which is responsible for school campuses, has been non-responsive.
However, she was able to get 2011 police records for Indian Creek Elementary that show seven reports for theft, vandalism and burglary.
So far this year, there is just one report – for trespass.
Rawlins said she is aware of other incidents on the campus this year and says all of them should be recorded to help police determine where resources should be allocated in the school system.
CRIMETRAC, a crime mapping system on the DeKalb County Police Web site, indicates 591 crimes reported within a one-mile radius of the school over the past year, and 43 of them were within 500 feet.
Campbell said they are fighting back by trying to build a sense of community at the school. “We’re just looking forward to everyone coming out to help out on Oct. 13,” she said.