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story.lead_photo.caption Keeping Clean: Keep El Dorado Beautiful members Diane Hammond, left, along with Janis Van Hook, right, and other volunteers, work to fill gift bags with trinkets at Clean Harbors on May 14. The bags consist of coloring book, stickers and other items for third and fourth graders to help reinforce the idea of keeping their environment clean.

Summer vacation began several weeks ago for area students and to help keep the learning going until classes resume in the fall, Keep El Dorado Beautiful made sure to send them off with a bag of goodies at the end of the school year.

On May 21, KEB stuffed and distributed nearly 800 bags for third and fourth graders at area schools, capping off a long-running project as part of an outreach effort to help educate schoolchildren about litter, recycling and beautification.

Janis Van Hook, president of KEB, said the project took the place of the group’s regular, monthly meeting.

Van Hook said the bags were distributed the following day to elementary schools in the El Dorado School District and West Side Christian School.

The bags contained educational materials and practical items, including bumper stickers, pencils and activity books to help raise awareness among schoolchildren about the importance of helping to keep the city clean.

The bags, which bear the KEB logo, can double as litter bags, KEB members said.

“We took them to the principals’ offices because we knew they had a lot of stuff going on at the end of school,” Van Hook explained. “We wanted to pass them out before school was out so they can take them with them on vacation.”

The bags were one of several projects that KEB is hoping coordinate with local schools. The group has discussed art and poster contests and other activities.

Van Hook said KEB also wanted to reach out to West Side Christian, though the school is not part of the El Dorado public school system.

“We didn’t want to leave them out. Though it’s a private school, we still wanted them to know that we’re there,” Van Hook said. “A lot of kids who go there live in the city.”

The aim is teach the city’s youngest residents about KEB’s objective, which is to provide resources and tools to residents to help keep El Dorado clean.

KEB members and former El Dorado Mayor Frank Hash have contended that reaching out to children on a grassroots level will help instill the importance of keeping El Dorado litter-free, awareness that children are likely to share with their families and carry into adulthood.

“There’s been so much talk about outreach to the schools that we wanted to do this before school was out this time,” Van Hook said. “We want the kids to know that we’re there and we need their help too.”

KEB also recently completed another project after exhaustive efforts.

In May, KEB was officially certified as a nonprofit organization, making the group eligible to become a community/alternative service provider for defendants in 35th Judicial District Court who opt for community service to help pay off fines that are levied for misdemeanor offenses.

KEB is teaming up with district court and the city of El Dorado for the program.

Judge Jack Barker has already begun assigning defendants to the program and KEB has submitted a list of streets for some of the most problematic areas in each of the city’s four wards.

“We want the city to know we are doing things. We want to help people understand what our objective with KEB is, to understand that we don’t clean. We educate and help to coordinate (cleanup) projects,” Van Hook. “The thing with municipal court is a step to help clean the city more than it’s being cleaned now.”

Tia Lyons may be contacted at 870-862-6611 or tlyons@ eldoradonews.com.

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