ST. CLOUD – A local group of politically engaged high school students is devoting the summer to keeping St. Cloud’s riverfront parks free of garbage.

Young People’s Collective, or YPC, has about 30 members from Tech, Apollo, Sartell, St. John’s Prep and Cathedral high schools. This summer, founder and Tech graduate Will Galler says around 10-15 members have been turning up for weekly group meetings and regular river cleanups at Wilson, Riverside and Hester parks.

Galler started YPC in 2018 as a way to connect with other area students interested in progressive politics and community organizing.

“I asked my Tech friends, ‘hey, do you guys want to work on helping make things (in St. Cloud) better?” Galler said. “And then we started hanging out on Thursdays. It was a really awesome time, so we figured we’d keep it up.”

“We were doing a lot of policy-related stuff, like door knocking and phone calls,” added member Sam Brewer, an Apollo senior. “We’re not necessarily trying to get away from politics, but sort of broaden our efforts. So, we’re doing a lot more community service."

Galler says they’ve staged multiple garbage collection events at St. Cloud’s Wilson, Hester and Riverside parks since the beginning of summer. Attendees are asked to bring their own garbage bags and masks, and remain socially distanced during the cleanup.

“We have a great time with it,” Galler said. “We’ve probably picked up several hundred pounds of (garbage) this summer, at least.”

Brewer says YPC’s activities morph depending on the interests of its members.

“Our idea is that people discover their own passions, and then they work on their own, or in smaller groups, before presenting to the entire group on actual steps they would like to take,” Brewer explained. "(Galler) really wanted to get this river cleanup started, so he talked to other members of the group and now we have cleanups every week.”

Brewer says YPC members have a wide range of interests; this summer, the group has taken part in several marches and protests in the twin cities related to the killing of George Floyd.

“Existing community issues have been exacerbated by the pandemic,” he said. “We’re currently talking about ways to reach out to people who might be food or housing insecure. We’re also thinking of elderly members of the community or other people who are at risk. I think these things will play a big role in the fall and shape what we do as a collective.”

Galler says the group has recently shifted from weekly Zoom meetings to socially-distanced, in-person meetings in the parking lot of the DFL headquarters.

“We’re not an official DFL organization, but we do identify as progressive,” he said. “Obviously, this summer has been filled with things to talk about. And we have a lot of things planned for the future.”

YPC’s next group meeting is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the parking lot of 1729 West Saint Germain Street. Their next river cleanup is Saturday at 12:30 p.m. beginning in Hester Park next to the water treatment plant.

Young People's Collective is always accepting new members – to learn more, visit their Facebook page.

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