Justin Rudd was teaching a beach bootcamp class nearly 25 years ago when he decided to do something about the trash littering Rosie’s Dog Beach.
About 12 students stayed after class to help clean up the area, and afterward, Rudd asked if they would come back the next month and bring some friends.
Over two decades later, the beach cleanup has turned into a monthly event, typically drawing about 150 volunteers each time.
And Rudd didn’t stop there.
Within a year or so, Rudd began expanding to other events.
It wasn’t long before Rudd was hosting a kids’ spelling bee, and the Haute Dog Easter Parade, one of Rudd’s several events catered to dogs and their owners.
While Rudd didn’t initially have the intention of creating an official nonprofit, within a year or two, the Community Action Team had formed.
Rudd says that he hasn’t yet tired of doing beach cleanups.
But with the wide array of events hosted by his nonprofit, Community Action Team, Rudd has been able to incorporate his interests and concerns into numerous full-fledged events and fundraisers throughout the year, both connecting community members and contributing to Long Beach.
“This is what I do, I don’t have another full-time job,” Rudd said. “When I started out in Long Beach, I was doing lots of different things to make money, and then I quickly realized that my interest was doing this nonprofit stuff, and organizing events and projects, and have been doing it full time since.”
Just within the next couple of months, the Community Action Team has a whole host of events to offer: a free touch-a-truck event on May 7, a shoe and clothing drive coming up the first week of June, Camp Justin later that month, then comes the 4th of July kids’ bike parade, and Rudd’s annual trip to Kenya. And every third Saturday of the month is the beach cleanup at Rosie’s Dog Beach.
While it’s hard for Rudd to pick a favorite (the Community Action Team hosts over 30 events each year), Camp Justin allows Rudd to provide several days of opportunities to high school students, and Operation Easter Basket is able to serve a few thousand kids by providing essential items, he said.
Rudd hopes that through his events, “there should be something for everybody,” Rudd said. While he knows that not everyone will be bringing their dog to the Interfaith Blessing, and not everyone enjoys beach cleanups, he loves the diversity of what his organization offers, he said.
“I’ve always been a fan of bringing people together,” said Rudd. “I love being a part of something. I think in general, people love that. People want to gather with other like-minded individuals, do things, experience things. I think they want those opportunities, and I love being able to offer a few dozen opportunities each year for people to gather, families to gather.”
Rudd has his sights set on adding some potential future efforts to his roster, including building a boys high school in rural Kenya, opening a bakery or coffee shop that hires people coming out of homelessness or incarceration, and establishing a no-kill shelter in Long Beach.
“That would be a dream,” Rudd said.
Over the years, thousands have participated in a Community Action Team event, from Operation Santa Claus, which has become a worldwide movement, to collecting over thousands of pairs of socks this past January for Long Beach’s unhoused residents.
“People want to help, and when you can make the opportunity easy, I like that,” Rudd said.
Rudd estimated that about 150 people join each monthly beach cleanup. About 200 volunteers got together for this year’s Operation Easter Basket, which provides essential supplies to thousands of children. The touch-a-truck event typically reaches about 1,000 spectators (plus there are 100 participating trucks and about 20 volunteers). The Turkey Trot typically gathers about 3,000 people and 80 volunteers—one year, 6,500 people participated, Rudd said.
“I think back to some families that were there back a few years ago—there was a gentleman who was in his 90s, he’s walking with his grown kids and grandkids, and they were all together, just having that family time. They did it for years. There’s a little bit of pride knowing that I’ve put together an event where families can come together like that.”
But in the meantime, Rudd hopes to continue providing as many opportunities as possible for Long Beachers to get involved.
Rudd recounted seeing children as young as 4 years old joining the beach cleanups, and now they’re in college or bringing their own kids.
“Twenty-five years of doing a beach cleanup every month, that’s a long time, ” Rudd said. “I look back and think, ‘Where did that time go?’ But you want to continue to engage the next generation.”
There will eventually be a day when Rudd has to step aside and let someone else with the same passion, energy and skills take the reins, but until then, Rudd can be found side-by-side with other volunteers, as a participant as well.
“We’re all a part of it,” Rudd said. “I think that’s important, and it has always been, and it’s part of who I am. I hope that my mindset will always be with service at the top of my mind.”
View upcoming events and sign up for the Community Action Team newsletter here. You can also follow Justin Rudd on Facebook here.