When Jeff Oakes first started the Facebook group Love Weatherford just before the Thanksgiving holiday last year, it had less than 10 members.
By mid-March of this year, more than 700 members had cleaned up over 25 miles of road in and around the city of Weatherford with plans to do even more in the future.
A stay-at-home father of eight children, six of which still live at home, Oakes said the group was created with a specific purpose in mind.
“We want to improve Weatherford,” Oakes said. “So what we’re doing right now is picking up trash. Once we get a little further on, we will be doing other things, but for now it’s trash. I think we’ve picked up almost 800 bags of trash, which is over four tons.”
Oakes, 58, said he got the idea one Sunday during church services.
“We went to church and were told we should be more active in the community doing things to help out,” Oakes said. “And I said, ‘You know what, I’m going to clean up my street.’ So I went out with my wife and cleaned up our street and the neighbors loved it. The street looked better and there was a really wonderful feeling that came with that. When we got to the end of the street, we were like, ‘You know what, let’s do the next street.’”
And on it went from there.
“We live about 20 miles outside of town, and I have to drive to Weatherford every day,” Oakes said.
“Whenever I’m driving back, I’m always really upset by how much trash I see. And we just thought, ‘We’re going to clean all the way to town.’ This has been so good for my family and I that I thought there have to be other people who feel the same way.”
And Oakes was exactly right.
Word started to spread about the Love Weatherford group, and membership expanded exponentially.
“The coolest thing is that the city has called us,” Oakes said. “They contacted us and they are just as excited about what we are doing as we are. They’re like, ‘The mayor wants to meet you, and the city manager wants to meet you.’ I went into code enforcement and we were told they knew all about us and loved what we were doing.
“The city has just been wonderful. We need their help and they need our help and they can only afford to hire so many people, so we are a force that the city doesn’t have.”
Originally from California, Oakes worked as a builder before injuring his back several years ago.
Oakes and his family have lived in seven different states over the last 22 years, but the Parker County man said he and his family have finally found their home.
“Texas is where we are going to stay,” Oakes said. “We love this state so, so much.”
Oakes said the group asks members to pick up one bag of trash a month, which takes about 30 minutes, though most members do more.
The clean up so far has been mainly along the roads, but Oakes said the group is hoping to expand into different communities.
“We’d like to eventually help people who can’t afford or aren’t physically able to take care of their lawns,” Oakes said. “We want to be able to help those in need to improve their yards.”
Oakes said he will continue to volunteer for as long as he is able for one important reason.
“I spent the first portion of my life chasing after things that would make me happy,” Oakes said. “And they didn’t make me happy. So now I enjoy doing something that truly make me feel good inside, which is serving others. I’m not perfect, I’m far from it; I make mistakes like everyone else, but I like to think that I’ve found what really makes me feel good. Everybody does what they do because they are searching for happiness. I’ve just found the thing that makes me feel the best is pleasing God.”
For more information or to make a donation, go to www.loveweatherford.org.