Ever walk by a yard in your neighborhood and think, “Damn! Can’t somebody clean up that dump?” Well, someone should: Jankiness not only looks bad, it also brings down well-meaning neighbors’ property values—not to mention community morale. Whether that eyesore belongs to a resident who is too busy, lazy, poor or feeble to keep up appearances, the simple fact is yardwork just isn’t going to do itself. Faced with an abundance of unkempt yards, Diamond Cornell of Oak Park instead saw an opportunity for change in his community—and a reason to start his own business, Community Clean-Up Services, an alternative to blighted lots and also an example to neighborhood youth. Cornell, and sometimes his older brother, have made Oak Park look sharper already. I recently met up with Cornell at a local coffeehouse to talk business. He isn’t rich, so to make a donation of cash or landscaping equipment, or to volunteer, call (916) 370-0882.
How do you approach cleaning up someone’s yard so they don’t feel like they’re being criticized?
We just say we’re trying to do something—not really to try to make money, that’s why we take donations—and when they hear that, that it’s a donation, then they ease up. Some people do and some people don’t. For some reason, when I tell them we accept donations, they give me more than I’d expect. I thought of the idea for the business, but my brother pushed me to really do it.
And is he older or younger?
Older. I’m 20 and he’s 22.
Why was this idea so important that you’d do it for very little money?
’Cause we were just sitting around not really doing anything. Me, myself, I’m really trying to come up with a different way to get money, instead of just doing all these other things that are going to land me in the wrong place. So I want to be community-involved someday, and basically that’s how it came up.
What problems did you see in the community that begged your involvement?
Just all these petty altercations that are based off the fact that nobody got nothing to do; they’re just sitting around and any small thing gets blown up [out of proportion]. A lot of energy being put into negativity that doesn’t amount to anything—just that whole underworld where everybody’s just sitting around waiting for stuff to happen. … And there are not really that many options, so this is just another option. I’d eventually like this to expand and be a big community thing. [Editor’s note: Diamond’s Youth and Teen Opportunity line is (916) 613-3800.]
People young and old become complacent, and may spend more energy complaining about than fixing problems. Do you find that your positive attitude is rubbing off on others in your community?
My little cousin, he looks up to me because this is a whole different route. This is a whole different thing than where we’re “supposed” to go, so those are the people that are giving me this big response, which I wasn’t expecting. People really support it … and say, “Keep it up.”
Was there ever a specific project you worked on that stuck out and made you feel proud to be part of the change?
My grandma’s yard. She had one of them stumps from the old trees; she had a big stump! We didn’t have any equipment, but me and my little cousin took the project up with a shovel and an ax, and people kept coming by saying we weren’t going to get it out. And it took two weekends, but we dug it up with just a shovel and an ax.
So a lot of times when you’re cleaning up yards, do you find that it’s elderly people who aren’t able to take care of their properties sufficiently?
I would say [most people] don’t care. Most of the people seem like they don’t care, because they’ll have young kids in their house, but a lot of them also just don’t have a lawn mower sometimes. The majority of them don’t have a lawn mower, so we help them out with the lawn mower situation.
Anything else you’re envisioning for your neighborhood besides the landscaping makeover?
The people I’m surrounded by are gangs and people like that, and if they just see that you can make money and have fun by helping somebody instead of bringing them down, that can change the whole way they’re trying to be.
So instead of selling grass, you’re—
Cutting grass. And the reason I take donations is I want the money to be a gift for me doing it. I know you have to make money, but I don’t want money to be the gas that I run on. I want it to be bringing people together.