By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on May 19, 2021
Eight-year-old Hope Mascio may not be very fond of cleaning up her room, but she’s always liked cleaning up the environment. So when her younger sister’s homework included picking up the trash in her backyard for a week, Hope had an idea.
She pulled out her little red wagon with the squeaky wheel, polished it up and enlisted a few friends to help her clean up the streets of their neighborhood, Colingwood, which is part of Colington. Now, armed with decorative protective gloves and a ton of enthusiasm, Hope and her cleaning crew — officially dubbed the Squeaky Cleaners — regularly hit the road to tidy up a bit.
One recent afternoon, the Squeaky Cleaners crew was hard at work in Colingwood. As soon as one of the crew members would spot a plastic bag, another would clean up a cigarette butt or deflated balloon. It wasn’t long before the empty Radio Flyer wagon was filled with trash. After a quick popsicle break, the crew was back to picking up trash.
“The first time we went, our wagon was almost overflowing,” recalls Hope, who named her crew the Squeaky Cleaners after the loud wagon wheel that has since been oiled. Consisting of Hope, Evaine Sanchez, 12; Hope’s sisters Grace, 6, and Lively, 3; Eloise Coleman, 8; and Emma Bryant 10, the Squeaky Cleaners have been in business for about two months. Although they don’t get paid for their labors, working on a cleaner world seems payment enough.
The crew has a set route they take around the small Colington neighborhood, sometimes with a parent going along, but often going out on their own as a group. Even with their regular rounds around the neighborhood, the Squeaky Cleaners always seem to find more trash each time they hit the streets. If all goes well, the crew plans on expanding its operation this summer to parks, beaches and possibly some other neighborhoods.
When asked how being part of Squeaky Cleaners made her feel, Evaine Sanchez replies: “More grown up. And it’s fun to have everyone down the street who are your best friends, and we can all come together and pick up trash together.”
“It’s not really fun to clean up trash alone,” she observes.
“For me, watching the girls take a suggestion from their school to clean up their backyard and turn it into a small little business plan is impressive,” says Hope’s mom, Cassidy Mascio. “I’m proud of them for being so driven and creative…I love the conversations they have had in the process, and I just want to be there to support their growth because I think the Squeaky Cleaners are a great heart-warming reminder of how we can all help keep our community clean.”
Hope tells the Voice that she first became interested in the environment when she was in kindergarten or first grade and learned about a sea turtle that got a plastic straw stuck up its nose.
“It’s just very sad when you hear that stuff,” she says. “When you learn a lot about trash and what can happen, it really can make you feel connected to the environment.”
Hope’s sister Grace confirms the connection between Squeaky Cleaners and the desire to preserve our planet’s wildlife. As she explains it, the kids were playing with the red wagon one day, and “Hope saw some trash and the trash blew into our wagon. And then that is where she got the idea to do the Squeaky Cleaners, to help turtles and the earth and lots of different kinds of animals.”
Hope took a moment during a recent cleanup day to reflect on why the work of the Squeaky Cleaners is so important and to talk about how people can do their part by doing things like picking up trash when they see it.
“The earth is all of ours and there isn’t two of them,” she says. “There’s one of them and we need to take care of it, or we won’t have a place to live. We need to take care of the earth one piece of trash at a time.”
Editor’s Note: “Unsung Heroes,” is a feature that profiles individuals whose work or activities help to improve life and lives in our community. The subjects can range from your next-door neighbor to a sheriff’s deputy, and the goal is to recognize someone making the OBX a better place — and doing so out of the bright glare of the public spotlight. If you have a nomination, please email email@example.com.