Photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes

Women with a Cause 2018: Jenni Peters

Cause: Pick ups anti-litter program

When Jenni Peters opened Varsity Sports in 2000, her idea was simply that it would be nice to have a little local running store in Baton Rouge. As a longtime runner, it felt a natural offshoot of something she was already passionate about. “But I never imagined the ways the store would give me such a platform to promote the causes that matter to me,” she says.

In opening her doors to the Baton Rouge running community, Peters found herself in a position to really make a difference in her city. “It starts with endorsing fitness and healthy lifestyles,” she says. “But it extends to a larger civic and community responsibility.”

Peters’ “Pick Ups” initiative—community running events in which organized groups gather to pick up trash on their jogging routes—comes from this mission to promote a holistically healthy Louisiana.

Pick Ups came to fruition last May, when Saucony Running named Varsity Sports one of its “Great American Running Shops.” A component of the honor was a Saucony-funded community service project. Drawing on pre-existing conversations about cleaning up some of New Orleans’ running areas, Peters decided to make the project a three-city effort.

“It was a perfect storm of coincidences,” says Peters. “Everything just came together all at once.”

Over the past six months, Peters has held Pick Ups events in Baton Rouge’s popular University Lakes area, Mandeville’s Ponchartrain Lakefront and Old Mandeville, and Freret Street in uptown New Orleans. In August, at the urging of other Baton Rouge community members, Peters held a Pick Up in Mid City, drawing 250 runners and cleaning up over 1,000 pounds of trash.

“It went fantastically,” she says. “The idea is really, really growing and now evolving.” In October, a group gathered again to clean up the Perkins corridor, and in November she worked with a coalition of city and state leaders, along with local businesses, to organize a massive downtown cleanup event called the “Green Army.”

For these efforts, Peters was recently named a finalist in the national 2018 Cox Conserves Heroes competition, which honors volunteers who work to “create, preserve or enhance” outdoor spaces in their communities. With her $10,000 award, she partnered with BREC Conservation to fund improvements including walkways, bike stations and water fountains for City Park’s Little Duck Landing area. “I wanted to contribute something that had meaning to the recreational and environmental aspects of our community,” she says.   

Peters believes that what they’ve accomplished has made a positive statement for Baton Rouge. “I’m hoping that if we can improve these places, people will think twice before dropping their trash on the ground, and work harder to make Baton Rouge a cleaner, better place for all of us.”


What do you love about the volunteer efforts that you do?
I love the energy of friends working alongside me.
How is your cause making a difference?
We are making changes that people notice and want to imitate.
What do you hope to achieve?
A better community.
What is something we don’t know about your cause?
We offer prizes for things like the heaviest trash, or the most unique trash. All kinds of yucky stuff! Also, we often give away free T-shirts, and occasionally free beer!