Founder of Ottawa’s Capital City Cleanup calls pandemic an ‘awakening’

By Douglas Boyle

An Ottawa personal trainer has turned a negative situation into a big positive for his community.

After the government mandated that all non-essential services be shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, personal trainer Bryan Kluke found himself with a lot of free time.

He's taken that opportunity to forge a new path in life.

Kluke formalized his organization Capital City Clean Up in April of 2020, based on the annual program the Glad City Cleanup. Feeling as though the biohazards and general trash accumulating on Ottawa’s streets was a year-round effort, he began his own organization to address the issue.

“A lot of people felt the unfortunate effects of a [pandemic] shutdown. But for myself, it was an awakening,” says Kluke.

“Suddenly, with everything shut down, and having not much to do, I was able to really start developing the cleanup group. Which was just cleaning up trash, helping the communities and letting those neighbourhoods see that we are there to help the community connect with everyone.”

Kluke’s efforts would continue to expand and evolve throughout the last year and a half. What began as a chance to help alleviate the burden of refuse in the city grew into a chance to connect with the people who live there.

“To me, there really was no reason why people couldn't get out and get involved on a regular basis and take ownership of their community,” says Kluke.

“We were seeing biohazard materials, some pipes, some needles, and we would be equipped to handle those materials. And that kind of became the benchmark. Those cleanups became a metric that we have now to gauge how well we're doing.”

Influenced by The Coldest Night and other community outreach programs, Kluke became aware of the struggle community members face when the weather reaches extremes.

“Very recently, during the heatwave, I made the decision to carry a bunch of 500-millilitre water bottles in my backpack. And I would stop and say hello to some of the groups of people that are hanging out and trying to seek refuge in the shade,” says Kluke.

“I would purposefully ask their names and try to hold a little bit of a conversation. I think that it's very much appreciated by everybody all around. If a little bit of humanity is spread, having that conversation, connecting with the people, sharing the water, and really helping somebody be a little bit more comfortable, that definitely makes me feel good.”

Kluke currently receives no funding from the city or province for his efforts in cleaning up neighbourhoods, funding is something he says does not align with the spirit of his organization.

“In terms of the monetary costs, and what this operation takes to run, it is so very little compared to the effect it has. So, a box of thirty bags; it's $6. Thirty bags of trash removed off the street has a much greater impact than six dollars,” says Kluke.

“So, the monetary cost compared to the amount of good that it pushes out into the community, it speaks for itself.”

Kluke says that although cleaning up is their namesake, the organization has grown into something much greater. Capital City Clean Up gives them a chance to bring volunteers into the city streets and find ways to elevate other organizations in the city.  

Through charity efforts and networking, Kluke and Capital City Clean Up have managed to accumulate $7,000 through bottle drives to make donations to several organizations like the Ottawa First Responders Foundation, Little House of Ottawa, Christie Lake Kids and CHEO.

“It’s not responsible for me to take sole credit for it. It became a program of Capital City Clean Up and with that the potential was magnified. Because instead of just me doing it, it was the power of many. And it became much more successful than I could have had it on my own,” says Kluke.

Kluke believes that anybody can be mindful of what they see on their walks and by making a point of reporting dangerous or unsightly things to the city, the individual can have a profound effect on their community.

After witnessing his organization evolve to meet the needs of the city, Kluke insists his organization will continue to change and adapt to where it is needed.

“It's all for the better of the community. It's always going to change and we're always going to find a new way to help. We're always going to capitalize on it no matter what it is,” says Kluke.

To find out more about Capital City Clean Up, you can visit his website here.

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