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SHIPROCK — Plastic peanut butter jars, glass bottles and candy wrappers were among the items AmeriCorps member Alejandro Cota found while participating in a community cleanup on Monday.

Cota, who is part of the veterans and families support assistance program under the San Juan County Partnership, joined fellow AmeriCorps members to observe the National Day of Service on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In 1994, Congress designated the federal holiday as a day of service, according to an AmeriCorps press release.

Cota joined the organization in October because, he said, he wanted to improve the Shiprock community, where he grew up.

"All I want to do is help," he said before resuming his work on Monday.

The AmeriCorps members who volunteered Monday participate in the veterans and families support assistance program and the environmental stewardship program, both of which are under the San Juan County Partnership.

They met at the AmeriCorps office near the Shiprock Chapter house, then drove to Nizhoni Park along the bank of the San Juan River.

Throughout the morning, they picked up trash and removed debris — which included tires, carpet pieces and a dog carcass — from the area.

With the sound of traffic moving on nearby U.S. Highway 64, Lisa Cohoe worked alongside her sister, Shante Cohoe, and AmeriCorps member Kendrick Joey.

Lisa Cohoe, who joined AmeriCorps last year, said the members decided to conduct a cleanup on the National Day of Service to help the community.

"Where you live, I feel, it's a place of family. So it's always good to keep your house clean, so this is our house," she said.

AmeriCorps members Shaneyka Yazzie and Kyle Jim filled their large garbage bags with trash found underneath the Highway 64 bridges. At one point, Yazzie cleared a pile of burned papers and charred tin cans.

Yazzie, who is in the environmental stewardship program, said the holiday provides her another opportunity to make a difference in the community.

She added that members cleaned the same area about a month ago and are now working on building a three-mile trail along the river.

"I'm a little surprised," she said of the trash the group found on Monday. "I thought people saw us down here, cleaning up. Now there's more trash again."

AmeriCorps members enrolled in the program offered by Capacity Builders Inc. also participated in the National Day of Service. They helped make improvements to the campus of a fledgling charter school in Waterflow.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636.

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