LODGE GRASS, Mont. — It started as a way to give back to the community of Lodge Grass, but the community cleanup that has since become an annual event focuses on so much more than litter.
“We have addiction, we have hurt,” Lodge Grass Mayor Quincy Dabney said earlier this year. “People have had some tough, hard times. We’re helping to heal that.”
Dabney, who has been mayor for a little more than one year, ran for the office after his neighbors, friends and family encouraged him to do so. They saw what he had accomplished with the first cleanup in 2016. People not only helped pick up trash along the town’s streets, but also turned in needles and bindles.
“We started at one end of the street, we lined up and we prayed at every corner,” Dabney said of how the first cleanup went. “We were taking back the streets, the city that we love.”
The next cleanup is set for May 10-11. Volunteers will meet at Lodge Grass City Hall at 9 a.m. both days. Trash bags, gloves and water will be provided, and food will be served each day at 3:30 p.m.
While trash collection and littering remains an issue in Lodge Grass, Dabney hasn’t given up hope. He has continued organizing people every year to help pick up.
Throughout the cleanups, the mayor has said folks come out of the woodwork. They see community members working hard and trying to achieve something, and they want to be a part of that, too. For Dabney, helping residents reestablish those connections with the community and with each other is key.
One of his partners in rebuilding Lodge Grass, BethYana Pease, said while the cleanup helps the town look better, it also allows for networking, ideas to be shared and problem solving to happen.
“How can you get a community to love each other when they can’t love themselves, or where they live or, you know, some of the other reasons people face,” Pease said. “We need to have leaders who love by example. (The cleanup) is a positive environment, kids come and they feed off positivity.”
The young mayor also welcomes help from outside the community. He has worked with churches and other groups in Montana who have helped with funds for large trash containers for the cleanups and other items. He’s also leaned on his team in Lodge Grass, those that work at city hall with him and his family.
“I think any help at this point would be amazing,” Dabney said. “People need to see — people who are coming in, coming to help, it’s not just with money. They have something to offer, some sort of talent, some sort of knowledge.”
The mayor added that while there is always a level of pride in accepting help from those outside the Lodge Grass community, he believes the Crow people are welcoming.
“It doesn’t take a lot to get on their level,” Dabney said. “They are really down to earth and the culture is so rich and honoring. If you came to the cleanup, you would be a new person, but somebody will end up latching on to you and telling you stories. That’s how cool it is.”
Pease added that all help is welcome. Those interested can bring some trash bags and gloves, but more importantly, she said, bring an enthusiasm for the children of Lodge Grass.
“Kids are where it’s at,” Pease said. “Most people my age are the parents, they are stuck in addiction. … Kids here still have hope. If somebody can reach out to them, to bring enthusiasm for that, they listen.”
The vision for the future of Lodge Grass, Dabney said, is for the community to be “a light.”
“Where communities, families really, are the focus and it isn’t a safe haven for drug dealers or criminal activity,” Dabney said. “Instead we want it to be a haven for young families that want to work, to do things, to take care of each other.”
Pease noted that while Lodge Grass has fallen, its residents are working hard to rebuild and it takes communities to build a community.
Anyone interested in helping with the cleanup in Lodge Grass should call city hall at 406-639-2362 or 406-639-2352.
Editor’s note: We published more about Lodge Grass Mayor Quincy Dabney’s ongoing revitalization project in an earlier article in The Sheridan Press.