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How do you eat an elephant?

It Just Makes Sense

June 18, 2012
Gerald Schnepf - Executive director, Keep Iowa Beautiful , The Daily Freeman Journal

An old joke, but one that has significant meaning for undertaking large scale projects. The punch line is "One bite at a time!" The implication is that initially the task may seem to be impossible, however, if you focus on the smallest element of that task the task soon becomes manageable and one that can be tackled.

Cleaning up a community and making it attractive may seem to be similar to eating the elephant but if it is pursued with leadership, a committee of dedicated volunteers and defined small projects or elements that when accomplished will show success, the project starts to become easier. The group can take the project and develop a plan, spread over time (don't need to eat the elephant in one sitting) that tackles the elements of the project i.e. litter and debris clean up, repair of facilities, painting of places, landscaping, improving signage, enhancing the entryways to the community, etc.

After developing the various elements of the plan the next step is to consider how each item is to get done, by who and at what cost. The recruitment of volunteer becomes a key item. The involvement of youth and youth groups in the context of service learning (discovering how they benefit as individuals, as well as how the community benefits) is an essential ingredient. Done correctly it helps grow and enhance the student and the community. Another element of the workforce side is the recruitment of service clubs and the use of the media to help in that process.

Now with the workforce in place and the projects defined each project can be assigned to a group or committee to prepare a specific plan of action identifying all the tasks to get the job done. As an example the idea of cleaning up litter and debris in the community requires the assigning of small groups to specific littered areas providing them with the tools (bags, safety training and equipment, grabbers, vests, etc.) and the way to get rid of the trash collected. The heaviest littered areas can be dealt with first and then other priority areas can be identified. Major debris clean up requires another special set of tasks so that as each project is detailed, the tasks become manageable and easier to assign to a working committee for that task. In other words that first defined identifiable task is the first bite of the elephant. Finding the funds for out-if-pocket expenses becomes another task and the challenge of another committee, etc.

After a period of time the "eating of the elephant" becomes a project that you feel good about. You can see the total number of bites and pretty soon the elephant is eaten. "Eating an Elephant" is somewhat like taking a trip. You have a destination in mind but the trip begins with the first step and continues one step after another or in the case of a vehicle, one mile after another. The journey to the destination, step by step or mile by mile and what happens along the way often becomes the enjoyable part of the trip. Reaching the destination may in fact be anticlimactic. The projects that you put together to build pride in community appearance and cleanliness (the journey) may be more fun and exhilarating than reaching your final goal (destination) of a clean and attractive community.

Remember after you have eaten the elephant, clean up, wash the dishes and thank the volunteers.



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