Keep Van Buren Beautiful celebrated its 10th anniversary with a challenge to continue its hard work to make the city a better place to live.

"Find things to do in your community to improve the quality of life," said Robert Phelps, director of Keep Arkansas Beautiful. "That is my challenge to you in going forward."

Phelps was the featured speaker at an invitation-only luncheon June 18 at the Van Buren Police Department to mark the 10th anniversary of KVBB, an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful.

Keep Van Buren Beautiful is the result of a July 22, 2005, meeting organized by Brett Peters, then president of the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce. A Pride and Enhancement Committee evolved into KVBB, which was certified as an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful in May 2006.

"We are indebted to all of you for your vision in the beginning and your commitment over the past 10 years," Phelps said. "We want to thank you and congratulate you on improving the quality of life in Van Buren."

He also had high praise for John Pope, who has been the driving force for KVBB as its director.

"You have been blessed with a man with the vision to guide your organization through his wisdom and hard work," Phelps said.

Keep Van Buren Beautiful has been honored by Keep America Beautiful for its efforts and has received numerous grants for cigarette litter prevention. KVBB also has received a President’s Circle Award from Keep America Beautiful every year it has been an affiliate.

The community service worker program has reduced trash on Van Buren streets by picking up more than 11,000 30-gallon size trash bags since the program began.

As a result of these efforts the City of Van Buren received a Shine Award from Keep Arkansas Beautiful two years in a row in 2009 and 2010.

"It has been my pleasure to work with everyone here to make the program a success and the community a better place to live," Pope said. "We started out as a messy city 10 years ago and since that time have cut the visible amount of trash in half."

The city’s annual litter index has gone from a 2.7 on a scale of 4 to 1 to a 1.25, Pope said.

He also had praise for the Van Buren School District and its recycling efforts which have kept 1,085 tons from the Fort Smith landfill.

Van Buren Mayor Bob Freeman also had high praise for KVBB, Pope and the organization’s board of directors.

"But the aggravating thing is some people still don’t get it," Freeman said. "That is why we must constantly educate people about litter and continue cleanup efforts."

Freeman also said the solid waste district of which Van Buren is a part could face funding problems in the future.

"This will be a challenge for the city, but we will continue to go forward," Freeman said. "We will not go backwards."