First impressions are important. Thanks to a group of AEP Ohio employees in northwest Ohio, motorists will have a better one of Van Wert, a small farming community of 11,000 residents near the Ohio-Indiana border.

Work Scheduling Assistant Shelly Mitchener led a group of local employees who wanted to give back to their community. She called the Van Wert Economic Development office about possible volunteer opportunities and their response was immediate: Her timing was perfect. The organization was gearing up for a cleanup of the “front door” to the City of Van Wert – i.e., the landscaping at the connection of U.S. Routes 30 and 127 along the bypass corridor.

Several years ago, a local men’s gardening club had beautified the spot with decorative rocks, shrubbery and flowers. Unfortunately, over the years this landscaping was neglected along with the nearby evergreen trees. The area was overrun by weeds and overgrown bushes, and fell into disrepair.

“It’s the first thing people see when they’re driving along Route 30 or to stop for gas. There’s also a Walmart right there and people go to it all the time,” said Mitchener, who was born and raised in Van Vert. “When they see the trash and weeds, people think it’s a crappy little town. This is like our front door – we don’t want it to be the first thing they see.”

More than 30 volunteers from AEP Ohio, the City of Van Wert, Ohio Department of Transportation and Van Wert Area Economic Development set out to change that. It took only a few hours for the large group – pulling weeds, picking up trash, trimming overgrowth and removing piles of debris – to make the area shipshape again.

Mitchener said residents have appreciated the effort. The hope is that 12 community organizations will share maintenance responsibilities moving forward, with each group making an annual visit to help keep the area neat and tidy.

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