Prove your humanity

Earlier this spring and summer, a group of kids met at the Teen Reading Lounge in the B.F. Jones Memorial Library in Aliquippa, Beaver County. Their mission was to make a video about an environmental problem that really bothers them: litter. 

LISTEN to the story

“It’s everywhere, especially here in our town,” said Victoria Vanhorenbeck, 20, who worked on the short film with local multi-media production company, Ya Momz House, Inc. 

Another participant, Ka’Mahney Red, 12, had one word for how the litter in their town makes her feel: disgusted. 

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council funded the program so that kids could learn more about environmental issues and reporting. The group met virtually with author Eliza Griswold, who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Amity and Prosperity,” about fracking. They also talked with investigative reporters from the Philadelphia Inquirer to learn about their reporting on lead paint and asbestos in public schools and to pick up interviewing skills. The participants learned other media skills, too.

“I never used, like, a camera,” Red said. “I always use the phone camera, so it was different.”

Participants learned media skills to help tell the story of the Big Beaver Litter Gitters. Photo courtesy of Ya Momz House, Inc.

The protagonists of their video are members of a small group taking on the problem of litter in Beaver County, with the emphasis on small. They are the Big Beaver Litter Gitters, comprised mostly of nine- and 10-year-olds, and a few junior members who are four and six years old. 

Katie Damaska started the project with her kids during the pandemic, and it grew from there. In the video, she explains that those members of the group who are old enough clean up along roads, or where they feel it is safe, whenever they have some free time. 

Liz Speed of Ya Momz House said the kids who made the video got to play director by telling the adults what they wanted in the script, selecting the B-roll, and helping to put it all together.

We structured getting a story done in about five weeks while making sure their voices were in it,” Speed said.

Layla Ausby, 11, said she didn’t know about the Litter Gitters before the project.

“I feel like it’s helping a lot because some people just don’t care about the litter and stuff and the trash that’s on the side of the roads,” Ausby said. “So I feel like they’re doing a really good thing.”

Nicholas Vanhorenbeck, another team member, says he hopes families in the area will see their video.

“If kids see it, then they can see that other kids their age can make a difference,” Vanhorenbeck said. 

His sister Victoria, who is 20, says the Litter Gitters’ enthusiasm is infectious, and that it’s great to see these little ones taking the litter problem into their own hands, so they can play on a playground that’s not trashed with styrofoam cups.

“I feel more hopeful for the future, seeing so many young people get involved,” she said.