When it came time for Live Oak Charter School student DJ Woodbury to pick a project for his sixth-grade community service assignment, it didn’t take long for him to focus on the Petaluma River.
Woodbury, 12, spends time on the river with his dad, David Woodbury, 58, fishing, checking out swans or otherwise puttering along the water in their 16-foot aluminum boat.
DJ, short for Daniel James, noticed the garbage floating in and out of coves or along the banks and proposed the idea of an ongoing river cleanup project to his dad. Over the next three months, father and son would head to the river about once a week and spend a few hours collecting what garbage they could — their boat laden with four or five garbage bins, plus a biohazard container.
In all, DJ hauled in 2,215 pounds of trash, plucked from the water with a trash picker from his seat in the bow. On Monday, he will head to the Petaluma City Council meeting to talk about his efforts.
Among the more than ton of garbage pulled from the river, the Woodbury boys found 17 syringes (hence the biohazard container), two TV monitors, two tires, hundreds of tennis balls and thousands of bottles and cans.
“It’s so inspiring to see a young person take it upon themselves to do this, and really to make such an impact,” said Stephanie Bastianon, executive director of Friends of the Petaluma River, which applauded the boy’s efforts on the group’s Facebook page last week. The amount of garbage DJ pulled from the river amounts to what would normally take about 100 people to clean out in a day, she said.
“So that’s pretty amazing,” Bastianon said.
The community service project is one that sixth-graders at Live Oak Charter School are tasked with completing every year, said Matthew Morgan, the school’s executive director.
“It’s a rite of passage for the kids to do real work in real ways,” Morgan said.
“I think we undervalue our teens in the community. They really want to do real work. They want to make a contribution.”
While Morgan said the amount of garbage DJ hauled out was certainly significant, he said “it’s not surprising, given that it’s DJ. He’s quite a go-getter.”
When DJ’s dad contacted Councilman Dave King about his son’s work a few weeks ago, King thought it would be a good idea to invite DJ to talk to the council about all the work he’s done.
“You put it in context, and, you know, I don’t know how much he weighs, but for a sixth-grader, that’s quite a bit of hauling,” King said. “That’s quite a project. And it’s really wonderful that he’s so civic-minded.”
To answer King’s question, DJ weighs 84 pounds, which means the quantity of garbage he pulled from the river amounts to more than 26 times his body weight.
“It was kind of depressing for a 12-year-old boy,” said his dad, a retired fisheries biologist.
“(I learned) how long it takes for some stuff to decompose,” DJ said. “Metals, thousands of years. Plastic, 250. It’s annoying and gross to think that somebody will dump, even after seeing the signs that say there’s a fine for dumping, and knowing it’s really bad on the environment, and they still just dump it in.”