Courtesy of CalTrans
If you were to ask the Gomez family what could possibly motivate them to wake up early on a weekend to pick up litter from a freeway, 39-year-old Allen Gomez, his retired 69-year-old father and his 50-something-year-old mom would all say the answer is simple – “Litter!”
As volunteers of Caltrans’ Adopt-A-Highway program, the family wakes up at 8 a.m. one to two weekends every month to help keep California clean by picking up litter from a stretch of Interstate 105 near their homes in Paramount.
The Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway Program is an avenue for individuals, organizations or businesses to help maintain sections of roadside within California’s State Highway System. With the new Clean California/Adopt-A-Highway program, volunteer incentives of up to $250 per month for litter cleanup may be authorized. For more information, visit https://cleancalifornia.dot.ca.gov/aah.
Prior to the pandemic, Allen Gomez, an employee with the County of Los Angeles, and his mother, Carmen Gomez, an administrator at USC, carpooled daily from their homes in Paramount to downtown Los Angeles on I-105. While driving they noticed that certain sections of the freeway were littered while other sections were clean. It bothered them that areas in their neighborhood were being littered. Allen recalls noticing an Adopt-A-Highway sign one day while driving and a light bulb going off in his head.
He suggested to his parents that they adopt a section of the I-105 freeway in their Paramount neighborhood to make their community shine like some others. The Gomez family enrolled in Caltrans AAH safety training and in December 2019 became dedicated volunteers with Caltrans (District 7) Adopt-A-Highway program. Since 2019 the family has been picking up litter near the Garfield Avenue off-ramp of Eastbound I-105 every month.
“It’s nice to drive on the 105 freeway and see our section so clean. While some may notice and others may not, it’s nice to know that we are the freeway’s caretakers. It brings a sense of pride and community to my family” says Allen Gomez.
The family’s eyes light up when they talk about the satisfaction they feel when they volunteer together.
Alberto Gomez, a retired security professional and proud grandfather, loves the exercise he gets from walking and picking up recyclable cans and bottles, and enjoys seeing his name on the AAH sign.
Carmen Gomez takes pride in being the safety lookout for her husband and son and the honks and thumbs up the family receives from drivers passing by.
As for Allen Gomez, cleaning the freeway makes him feel proud that’s he’s able to make his community of Paramount shine. “Cleaning the freeway allows us time to bond, have a good time and give back,” he says.
The family laughs when they talk about some of the unusual things they come across while picking up litter. “The weirdest things we find are hair wigs (a lot), laptops, and occasionally loose dollar bills,” Allen says. “The most money we’ve ever found was five dollars.”
About Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway program
The AAH Program began in 1989 and remains one of the truly successful government-public partnerships of our time. More than 120,000 Californians have cleaned and enhanced over 15,000 shoulder-miles of roadside. The program helps keep state highways cleaner and more attractive and at the same time helps control the growing cost of litter removal and other types of maintenance. Adopters have the option to participate as volunteers or to hire a maintenance service provider to perform the work.
Participation can include one or more of the following activities:
- Removing litter (work frequency varies with location)
- Planting and establishing trees or wildflowers
- Removing graffiti
- Controlling vegetation
Adoptions usually span 2-mile stretches of roadside and permits are issued for 5-year periods. Adopters in good standing may renew their permits an unlimited number of times.