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Keep El Dorado Beautiful looking forward to spreading message at Outdoor Expo

Otto the Otter to make appearance; information, children’s activities set for booth by Tia Lyons | September 8, 2023 at 12:00 a.m.
Union County Judge Mike Lofitn and his wife, Phena, are pictured with Otto the Otter, the mascot for the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission. Otto will make an appearance alongside members of Keep El Dorado Beautiful this weekend at the SouthArk Outdoor Expo. (Courtesy of Mike Loftin)

The 24th annual SouthArk Outdoor Expo kicks off at 9 a.m. Saturday at the El Dorado Conference Center and according to organizers, the day will be filled with a variety of activities, including live music, a 5K run, rib cookoff, auto show, student art show, vendors, children's activities and "much, much more."

Included in the "much, much more" is Keep El Dorado Beautiful, one of the many groups in the region who is looking forward to the annual event.

The Expo promotes outdoor activities and is the flagship fundraiser for the South Arkansas College Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money to "benefit and advance SouthArk and for the encouragement and assistance of its students and faculty."

KEB will make its second successive appearance at the Expo.

Janis Van Hook, president of KEB, said the group was excited to receive another invitation to participate in the event, not only to support the Expo and SouthArk, but also to help spread KEB's message.

Since its formation in 2013, KEB has worked to build a sustainable, community campaign to help keep El Dorado clean by focusing on litter, recycling and beautification.

Van Hook said such events also afford KEB the opportunity to directly hear from and speak to local residents and share ideas on how best to meet the community's needs as they pertain to the cleanup program.

"The is our second year and we're really excited about it. We're ready to go. We had so much fun the last time and we got a lot of feedback," Van Hook said. "It goes hand in hand. What better way for people to enjoy the outdoors than to have a clean environment."

There were multiple visits to KEB's table during the 2022 Expo, with people asking questions about the group's mission and how they can participate, she said.

"We had several people sign up to adopt streets and other areas. We had a couple of people to join the (KEB) committee as a result of the Expo last year," said Van Hook.

People who live outside El Dorado, including in Smackover, Junction City and Camden, expressed an interest in launching similar programs in their communities.

KEB previously discussed partnering with Union County to assist with cleanup efforts that groups are looking to start -- and have started -- outside city limits.

Van Hook said KEB has spoken with Union County Judge Mike Loftin about the matter and the judge has forwarded information provided by KEB county officials and residents.

"The county has joined with us in adopting streets and highways in the county," Van Hook said. "I think that helps us, we help them and we're going to meet up in the middle. I think that's going to make a great difference."

Van Hook said KEB will distribute plenty of free materials -- including pencils, children's activity books, litter bags for vehicles and T-shirts bearing the logo of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission (KABC) -- to adults and children who stop by the group's booth on Saturday.

Appearing alongside KEB will be Otto the Otter, the mascot for the KABC.

Van Hook said scheduling the mascot for the Expo aligns with KEB's outreach efforts in local schools.

"Last year, we had a lot of kids that were kind of familiar with Otto because there had been some publicity in the schools about Otto. We're going to have Otto reading books to hand out, as well. So, we will have quite a bit of supplies and treats for the kids," Van Hook said.

As with the 2023 Expo, KEB members said they are hoping that their appearance at this year's event will generate more interest from the community about KEB's mission and goals.

KEB members have worked out their schedule to man the booth, which will be inside the conference center, and don the Otto costume for the Expo.

"I think most people understand our mission by now. At first, we got multiple calls from people asking for us to come and clean their neighborhoods and other areas around town," Van Hook explained.

Rather, KEB assists groups and individuals with tools and resources to organize their own cleanups, KEB members have explained.

Any group or individual who participates in cleanup activities -- even an individual who picks up litter while taking a walk -- around town may report the events to KEB.

The group can offer assistance for the cleanup events and forward the information, including volunteer hours, to the KABC, who files the information into the state's records.

KEB is working with El Dorado City Council members to coordinate community cleanups in their respective wards as a part of KEB's cash incentive program.

Volunteer teams with 10 or more people may qualify for $300 cash for their participation in the ward cleanups or pop-up cleanups that are coordinated with KEB.

The program prioritizes youth groups.

Community cleanups were held in the spring for wards 1 and 3. The program will resume next month in wards 2 and 4.

Van Hook also noted that KEB has ordered more signs for its Adopt-A-Street program, adding that dozens of groups and individuals have signed up for the program.

KEB posts signs denoting areas that have been adopted and the adopters.

"We've had so many to sign up, we ran out of signs. We had 50 and we've ordered 50 more, so for anybody that wants to adopt a street, we're going to have more signs," Van Hook said.

Admission for the Expo is one canned good or packaged food item, which will be donated to local food pantries.

For more information about the Expo, visit the event's website at southarkexpo.com.

To learn more about KEB, call Van Hook at 870-918-2706 or go the group's Facebook page.

Print Headline: Keep El Dorado Beautiful looking forward to spreading message at Outdoor Expo


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