By James Kirkegaard

The mother and daughter could have gone to the zoo or a movie, but the top pick for their Saturday date was to attend the Rivers Alive Cleanup on the Chattahoochee River on Sept. 29.

Each year Sarah Northrop dreamed of winning the top prize. After five years of trying she made her dream a reality.

Laura Northrop and her daughter Sarah, age nine, received two out of three awards at the annual North Fulton cleanup event at Riverside Park in Roswell: most unusual (hot water heater) and most pounds (530 out of 2,378).

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos and other local officials from the various North Fulton municipalities were on hand to honor their accomplishment.

The mother and daughter spent four hours battling briars and poison ivy to uncover two dumpsites on the banks of the Chattahoochee between Riverside Park and Saint Andrews Catholic Church. “We love to paddle our boats on the river and this is our way of expressing our deep love for nature. Now each time we paddle by that spot we will know that we helped make it a more enjoyable place to visit.”

This is the same reason they have been volunteers for Keep North Fulton Beautiful (serving the City of Sandy Springs), “Adopt A Road” program. They adopted a section of Mount Vernon Highway in Sandy Springs, a road they drive down almost everyday. In July, they battled 100 degree temperatures, fire ants and speeding cars to pick up hundreds of pounds of trash.

“My two girls could not contain their joy and excitement knowing they alone had helped make this world a better place. This is very empowering for them,” said Laura Northrop. “Our family values organizations that encourage children to participate in volunteer work and Keep North Fulton Beautiful in Sandy Springs is at the top of our list.

“We credit Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program with challenging us as a family to do more for our community,” she continued. “Active groups around the world strive to do at least three projects a year to help people, animals and the environment. Programs such as these fit perfectly with our lifestyle of home-schooling. We explore subjects that interest us, then pursue hands-on experiences to complement what we have learned.”

Getting poison ivy is the small price Sarah’s mother had to pay to help her daughter learn that with hard work and determination she can make her wildest dreams come true.

Who knew they could bring in more trash than a group of 100 people. This certainly underscores that we can all make a difference in our communities.

James Kirkegaard is chairman of the board of Keep North Fulton Beautiful and helped organize the Rivers Alive Cleanup.