Jones Point Cleanup Honors Memory of Michael Cunningham

Michael Cunningham in a favorite spot—on the water. (Photo: The Cunningham Family)

Alexandria, VA – Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways, a 501(c)(3) organization, recently hosted a volunteer cleanup at Jones Point Park in memory of Michael Cunningham, a 19-year-old Alexandria resident who tragically died in a car accident in late May.

Family friend Suzanne Bewick reached out to the local nonprofit, recognizing the serendipitous connection between their charter and Michael’s love of the water. “My daughter Jackie found Advocates first, and made a donation in Michael’s name. I loved the idea and made a similar donation,” Bewick said.

Jackie Bewick learned about the nonprofit right after Michael’s accident. “Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways had a unique option where you could donate In Memoriam of someone. I thought it was so perfect because they clean the Potomac River, they are a local company, and Michael passed away after spending the morning fishing on the river. He also dedicated time to keeping the river clean,” Jackie said.

The Cunningham family was touched and inspired by the volunteers who came and worked so hard in honor and memory of their son and brother, Michael.
(photos by Suzanne Bewick)

Karen Cunningham, Michael’s mother, agreed. “Michael grew up a waterman. He loved spending time at the ocean, and on rivers, creeks, and lakes,” she said. “He participated in local creek cleanups every year and often sought out tires, chairs, and bottles when he went to fish. This effort was a natural fit,” she said.

Caleb Merendino (left) and Benjamin Swanson (right) are the founders of Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways, a local nonprofit dedicated to cleaning up trash in our rivers and creeks.

Caleb Merendino, executive director of Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways, was curious to learn about Michael after receiving the donations in his name. Caleb said, “The minute we heard about Michael, we knew he was someone special and we had to do something to recognize his legacy. We decided our first Jones Point Park Volunteer Cleanup would be to honor him and his family, and the turnout was remarkable! We had about 30 volunteers show up and we were able to haul some 130 pounds of litter out of Jones Point Park.”

Volunteers included Michael’s rugby coach and teammates, along with friends and family. “A sense of camaraderie came over our group who all supported the Cunningham family,” said Jackie. “We wanted to let them know how special Michael was to all of us. It felt great to talk about him and share stories while working together as volunteers and picking up the trash.”

The sweltering heat and oppressive humidity didn’t deter the volunteers from making the most of their time at Jones Point Park. They hauled some 130 pounds of garbage away.

For the Cunninghams, the outpouring of support was touching and genuine, and they were grateful. “We want to thank all the kids who came out and who continue to do cleanups in Michael’s honor. It is comforting and inspiring to see how many people our son touched.”

Advocates has more cleanups in the works. Check the website for the latest updates: www.waterwayadvocates.org.

Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways have upcoming dates for waterway cleanups. Volunteers are needed. Visit www.waterwayadvocates.org for more details. (Photo: Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways)

Advocates for Clean & Clear Waterways is a 501(c)(3) organization based in Washington, D.C., serving Virginia, Maryland, and the District on the Potomac River, along several dozen tributaries, and the greater Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Founded in April 2020, the dedicated advocates focus on litter, water quality issues, environmental education, pollution response, and other environmental concerns affecting low-income communities.

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