Delaware Man's Blight Fight: Single-Handedly Cleaning Up His Park

Over the past couple of years, residents of Wilmington, Delaware, have noticed the conditions of Haynes Park improving. Once full of trash and litter, the park is now practically spotless. The effort is thanks to one man with a whole lot of pride in his neighborhood.

“The reason I started was because there was so much trash, everywhere, there was trash all over the entire park- on the playground, and the basketball court, everything- and I just decided to clean it,” explains 62-year-old Walter Graham.

Neighbors know him as Mr. Sonny and he has been taking care of Haynes Park for almost 4 years.

After suffering four strokes, Mr. Sonny decided to start cleaning the park. Not only does it help keep the community looking nice, but it is also therapeutic.

“People thought I was crazy! They said, “What are you cleaning the park for? You don’t work for the city,'” said Mr. Sonny, who has been unable to return to work following the strokes. “It keeps me working, keeps me doing things, but it also keeps me out of depression.”

When he began cleaning, he was able to fill four buckets full of litter. Now, it’s down to half a bucket. His work has clearly influenced park-goers to keep their community looking neat and tidy.

“Because of Mr. Sonny, the boys playing basketball are holding each other responsible for cleaning up their trash; similarly, kids on the playground are using the trash can more and more each day,” writes Lynn-Holly Oates, who first highlighted Mr. Sonny in a Facebook post. “For Mr. Sonny, this is the ultimate sign of respect and a symbol that we can build meaningful and positive relationships between community members- across generations- by our actions.”

Mr. Sonny is proud of the influence he had in the community and admits he has no plans of slowing down the clean-up effort.

“We’re going to keep this neighborhood looking good, because that’s what it’s all about- taking care of your neighborhood,” explains Sonny. “This is our neighborhood, and I don’t care if I’m the only one doing it- I’m going to keep on doing it until I can’t do it anymore.”

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