Tales of the Unexpected: Be Prepared for NPLD Serendipity
August 23, 2019
Lisa Beach

The best laid plans often go awry—sometimes with surprising results. Coordinating logistics, managing volunteers, and hoping for good weather all come into play when hosting an NPLD event. And sometimes, things work out a bit differently—for better or worse—than you have planned.

Just ask Praveena Ramaswami, who works in community relations and corporate communications with national NPLD sponsor Toyota North America. She credits the Toyota PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) mindset for her ability to always plan ahead. Noting that she works at the engineering headquarters for Toyota North America, Ramaswami recalls the extreme efficiency of her volunteers. Last year, they cleared an area for a naturescape playground and were given two benches and a small play structure to build in four hours.

“Our team of engineers were in their element and built everything in less than one hour!” says Ramaswami. “I can guarantee it was done with precision and with multiple quality checkpoints.”

She says the organization was dumbfounded, and had to scramble to find more work for the volunteers to do over the remaining time.

The lesson: Know your audience and plan projects accordingly.

Linda Hartsfield, volunteer coordinator with Great Lake Allatoona Cleanup (GLAC) in Georgia, understands that litter doesn’t accumulate overnight. While the annual NPLD clean-up event goes a long way towards beautification, GLAC took an unexpected approach to a more sustained effort.

In 2018, GLAC began two new initiatives: the Allatoona Lake Warriors and Adopt-a-Mile of Shoreline programs. Noticing that NPLD volunteers couldn’t reach isolated shoreline areas, GLAC created the Lake Warriors—volunteers with various-sized watercraft who can remove debris that is often untouched on the annual one-day cleanup.

Likewise, GLAC launched the Adopt-a-Mile group consisting of 20 individuals (known as Zone Captains) assigned to specific zones along the Lake Allatoona shoreline. Their job? To monitor and collect litter from their assigned zone year-round. When they get stuck trying to handle litter issues in their “zone of responsibility,” they reach out to the Lake Warriors for assistance. Talk about an unexpected (but synergistic) approach!

From January through September 2018, both program initiatives cumulatively logged an impressive 1162 volunteer hours.

The lesson: Think outside the box and tap into unexpected opportunities.

For Carrie Richardson, park manager with H.V. Eastman Lake/Buchanan Dam in California, NPLD is a family affair. She recalls bringing her then seven-year-old daughter with autism to help at the NPLD event. Her daughter decided to go swimming while wearing Richardson’s Ranger hat. Unfortunately, like most seven-year-olds, her daughter did not want to come back to shore when it was time to go home.

“I had a crowd calling her back as a floating Ranger hat slowly floated its way back to the shoreline,” recalls Richardson, noting her daughter laughed the whole way. “The event had all of us working together, and my daughter gained a family of 160 people that day.”

The lesson: Don’t forget the true goal of NPLD: to maintain public spaces while building a sense of community and connecting people with nature.


  • Praveena J. Ramaswami
    TOYOTA | TMNA Research & Development HQ | Community Relations and Corporate Communications
  • Carrie A. Richardson
    Park Manager, H.V. Eastman Lake/Buchanan Dam | Merced County Stream Group
  • Linda Hartsfield
    Lake Allatoona Association (LAA) Board Member | Great Lake Allatoona Cleanup (GLAC) Volunteer Coordinator