Kids to join annual DiRtBaG cleanup

Sponsored by the Homer Wilderness Leaders, the event celebrates Earth Day

The Homer Wilderness Leaders annual community spring DiRtBaG cleanup starts on Earth Day, April 22, and runs until April 27.

Homer youth age 8 to 19 meet at the Bishop’s Beach green Monday through Friday, where they form groups and choose a community location where they will pick up trash and debris. Snacks, gloves, orange safety vests and DiRtBaG T-shirts are provided to students. Elementary school students meet at 3:30 p.m. Middle and high school students meet at 4:15 p.m. for two hours each day.

The DiRtBaG cleanup and affiliated scholarship program started in 2011 by Libby Bushell, founder of Homer Wilderness Leaders (HoWL).

Current HoWL Program Director Molly Mitchell said the event has gone through different iterations over the years but it has always involved youth engaging in stewardship of the community by picking up trash and turning that into a fun and exciting team activity. Mitchell is also a summer program instructor and was in the first cohort of summer HoWLees as a student in 2009.

The program name DiRtBaG, or Discount Rates that Benefit all Genders, refers to the climbing term, “dirtbag” — someone who is so excited to get out on rock climb that they will sleep in the dirt at the bottom of a climb so they can roll out of bed and start immediately, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said there was a period during the COVID pandemic in 2020 when HoWL closed some of their programs and restructured some of the components of the organization. DiRtBaG used to refer to Discount Rates that benefit Boys and Girls, but they decided to make the title more gender neutral during the closure.

Youth who participate also have the opportunity to earn scholarships to participate in HoWL summer programs. Scholarship money is earned by pledges collected for the amount of trash they pick up, Mitchell said. A pledge can be collected in different forms, sometimes per bag of trash or per weight of trash, Mitchell explains.

“Pledging per bag of trash is most common, so if a youth goes out and collects 20 bags of trash and they have pledges from individuals or business in the community, they can use that funding for summer programs,” Mitchell said.

Scholarship opportunities are also available at the organization, either through participation in DiRtBaG or with a needs-based scholarship.

“I like to talk about the magic of DiRtBaG because it is so cool,” HoWL board member Tela O’Donnell Bacher said. “First of all, in the spring, when everything starts melting the local roads are looking a little trashy, you’ll notice that it’s not the most beautiful time of the year. Then, the kids go out and invest time into picking up garbage and they’re getting outside in the spring and they’re building a stewardship mindset of taking care of the community. It also kind of gives kids the chance to take an inventory of where certain types of trash are located in the geography of the community and they like that.”

They also like how much of a difference it makes to the visual landscape when they’ve taken a few hours to clean up a particular stretch of land, Bacher said. Bacher also explained how the youth are transported by volunteer drivers to different parts of the community — out East End Road, the Spit, up Baycrest — so they don’t need to just stay within walking distance of Bishop’s Beach.

“The event also contributes a sense of community relationship to Homer because of all the different businesses who make the pledges to the kids and then the kids give back to the community with their cleanup efforts,” Bacher said. “The kids are proud of the work they do and there are only wonderful things that come out it; it’s a great way to connect community values.”

Mitchell recalls her experience as a youth DiRtBaG participant. “It really was very satisfying to go out and see how much we could collect and compare it to everyone else who was participating. It had a fun, peer competitive element but also the element that we were actually doing something positive to impact the community.”

Mitchell explained that in addition to gloves and safety vests, participants have mechanical trash pickers to retrieve items that are dirtier than others.

“In terms of things that kids really should not touch or might be unsafe, all crews have an adult supervisor accompany them and they know what they need to monitor for that kids shouldn’t handle. If they find something like a needle or broken glass, the kids know they need to talk to their supervisor before retrieving something like that and let them handle it. The adults handle the sharps containers,” Mitchell said.

The teams also have scoops to clean up dog waste from the beaches.

The program is geared toward youth and their family volunteers, but in the past other adults have expressed interest and they are welcome to participate, too, Mitchell said.

Bacher and Mitchell both said the “trashiest” places they’ve noticed in the community are Baycrest Hill, en route to the Homer landfill and the deep ditches off Main Street.

The piles of trash collected over the week are stored on a trailer at the beach so participants can see how much work they’ve accomplished before it’s transferred to local waste facility after the week’s celebration.

At the end of the week, there is a celebration event for the 2024 cleanup at the Bishop’s Beach pavilion at noon. Lunch will be provided and HoWL provides an awards ceremony for the youth who engage during the week. Awards are provided for youth who pick up the most trash, get the dirtiest, or show exceptional enthusiasm and commitment.

Bacher praised Mitchell’s efforts at leading the program.

“We are so lucky to have Molly,” she said. “She is so amazing at leading our program. She’s so on top of it all. And, when you teach kids to invest in their community when they’re young, they keep investing as they age. You get a lifetime of people who care about their community.”

Youth do need to enroll in the program and they need to have a liability waiver signed by a parent in order to participate.

Enrollment and the forms can be retrieved online or brought to the event when participants attend the first day. Volunteer signup is also available online. The website is located at

The 2023 youth awards went to Sammie Huffman, Calab Cunningham, Rubis Gervais, Margaret Gervais, Rylan Oster and Graysen Oster.