BABE #244: ALLISON SHIRLEY - Founder/Executive Director, Clean Your 904
Allison left a steady job to pursue what really fueled her fire: building community. As the owner of Clean Your 904 and Allison Swim, she spends much of her time hosting wildly successful beach + park cleanups, teaching local youth how to swim and surf, and coordinating catering events for the Mini Bar donut shop. Her passion for sustainability and mentorship is made evident by both her professional pursuits and the ways in which she chooses to live her daily life. Allison is a gem who stands as a reminder that we can all make an impact through what drives us most.
Be sure to read through to the bottom of this interview for information regarding a BWH x Clean Your 904 event happening THIS Saturday, February 2nd!
Hometown: Largo, FL
Current city: Jacksonville Beach, FL
Alma mater: University of North Florida
Degree: B.S., Sport Management; Masters in Athletic Administration
Very first job: Swim instructor
Hustle: Founder/Executive Director, Clean Your 904; Owner/Mobile Swim Instructor, Allison Swim; Catering Coordinator, The Mini Bar
Babe you admire and why?
Kelli Tennant, sports broadcaster turned podcaster. She is my current ultimate role model because she left a successful career in broadcasting to start something she was truly passionate about, that helps others. Her podcast, “This is The Platform,” highlights the leading voices in health, wealth and self-development (which I have learned so much from). She also is the best speaker and I’m constantly taking notes.
How do you spend your free time?
I love working out, playing beach volleyball, looking for shark teeth, cooking and snuggling with my boyfriend’s dog, Cezar.
Go-to coffee order and/or adult beverage?
Current favorite is a honey latte with almond milk (in my reusable cup). I also love at-home cocktails. My favorite is infusing tequila with the Pineapple Jalapeño Margarita Jar from CAMP Craft Cocktail.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Ribeye steak, medium rare.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Dewayne Staats, play-by-play commentator for the Tampa Bay Rays since the team started in 1998. Whenever I hear his voice I feel like I’m 8 years old, watching baseball at home with my dad. So comforting! Now, sometimes at home I replay games from the night before—not to watch, just to have as background noise as I work or do things around the house. I love the sweet sound of baseball. Just to talk about his career and soak up all of his speaking skills would be amazing. I would be smiling the entire time. I want Dewayne Staats to officiate my wedding. That’s how much I love him.
What’s the weirdest find you’ve seen during one of the Keep Jax Beach Clean events?
At our Post-Cinco De Mayo Beach Cleanup, one of our volunteers found a pair of jeans with a Trader Joe’s burrito (and a bottle of tequila) in the pocket.
Tell us about your hustle.
I recently stepped out of my comfort zone and left my stable (but not fulfilling) jobs to pursue what I’m truly passionate about. I am currently starting my own mobile swim instructor business and a nonprofit. I have been teaching swimming since I was 16, and since then have always been a coach or an instructor of some kind. It’s the best feeling to teach my students how to swim, especially if they have special needs or were once terrified of swimming. I pride myself in having the patience and determination to figure out the unique way my students best learn how to swim. I am currently preparing myself to begin teaching in the spring and officially starting my business, Allison Swim. I am also growing a nonprofit called Clean Your 904. It started as a hobby, hosting beach cleanups and now has evolved with the goal of being a 501c3 to positively impact Jacksonville. I organize cleanups in our community and I visit elementary and middle school classrooms as a guest speaker to teach the students how to make an impact on their environment.
What does your typical workday look like?
I love to start most of my days with quiet time, planning and setting goals for my day while sipping on celery juice (thanks Kelli Tennant), then coffee. Taking the time to set my intentions for the day helps me be more productive. I work from home or bounce between different coffee shops at the beach when I need a change of scenery. It helps me feel more connected with other parts of Jacksonville, and I’ll walk around town to brainstorm about hosting a cleanup there. For both of my businesses I wear all the hats, but luckily have an amazing graphic designer, Kallie Martin who supports me in the creative design side of Clean Your 904. My swim business is seasonal, so my day-to-day will be very different once we’re in the warm months. I take this “slower” time to plan events, build my websites, create marketing materials and plan fundraising initiatives.
What is the story behind Keep Jax Beach Clean?
In 2012, I organized my first beach cleanup with my UNF volleyball team after wanting to do something about how trashed our beach could get. Fifteen people showed up, our tent was broken, our coach gave us a fruit bowl to share and the winner of the cigarette-butt competition won a free surf lesson from my teammate and me. Even though it was hardly an event, I felt so inspired to keep organizing them. Fast-forward to six years of organizing cleanups for other businesses: I realized I could turn this from a hobby into so much more. In 2018, I finally put a name to my cleanups and started an Instagram called Keep Jax Beach Clean. In that year, the events blew up. On average, we would have 300 volunteers at each cleanup. From the success and support from our community this year, I decided to rebrand our name to Clean Your 904 to be able to extend our reach to all of Jacksonville. It has been a slow climb, but I’ve been learning how to step-by-step create a nonprofit. I have never felt more motivated to build this initiative and turn it into a 501c3.
Have you always been passionate about environmental conservation?
I began taking action in my community towards environmental conservation in college, but I have always been passionate about volunteering my time. My parents set the ultimate example growing up; they were always involved in volunteering their time to a cause outside of their careers. They taught me to be generous with my time. My mom is a physical therapist and started a program called “Healthy to the Bone,” where she visited elementary school classrooms to teach the students about healthy eating and exercise habits. She was a total hit, dressing up in a skeleton outfit, and the kids were always so excited when the “Bone Lady” visited their classroom. This is what inspired me to take my cleanups into the classroom; to make a lasting impression on the students by showing them that being environmentally conscious is cool, fun, and attainable.
What are some small changes we can implement in our day-to-day to make a difference?
Start by always having your own reusable cup and bags. You’ll be amazed by how much less trash you are creating and how easy it is to fit into your routine.
What’s your approach to getting people excited about volunteering?
I try to make our cleanups as much fun as possible. At the beginning it was challenging to get people to show up to the events and to be happy about picking up trash. It can be tough to ask people to volunteer their Saturday morning picking up cigarette butts. To amp up the fun level we have competitions, where participants can win awesome prizes like gift cards to local restaurants or businesses. I also make it fun for the kids to participate by having mini buckets [and letting them] pick a sticker or shark tooth out of the treasure chest. Volunteers get treated to snacks and refreshments donated from local businesses. It’s not just about getting food donated—it’s an opportunity to show our volunteers which local businesses value what we’re doing, and that they care about keeping our community clean. It’s more of a gathering of like-minded locals and businesses who collectively love Jacksonville than just a cleanup. Having an after-party has been great because then our volunteers get to hang out and meet new friends after working hard at the cleanup. This is truly a community-driven movement.
How have your past professional and academic experiences prepared you for the work you do today?
I interned and volunteered with the Zane Beadles Parade Foundation. I learned a lot from that experience. I was lucky to have the opportunity to take initiative and have responsibilities that taught me valuable lessons I apply to Clean Your 904. Still, it was overwhelming to just begin. For years I was constantly told, “just make it a nonprofit,” like it was some easy thing to do. It’s so much more than that. I didn’t know exactly what needed to be done and how to do it. I leaned on mentors, reached out to people in the community who had nonprofit experience, read books and researched what others were doing. Every day I learn something new and get closer to the ultimate goal of making this more than a hobby. I also take pride in slowly building my brand and not getting in over my head. My dad would always ask me: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
How has being a woman affected your professional experience?
At past jobs I was told I was being sassy when I was really just being assertive and doing my job. I was also told I was spoiled or a princess when I was recognized for my work. The coworkers who said that to me likely didn’t think twice about it, but it’s ultimately what motivated me to make a major change in my life.
Are you involved with any other side projects or organizations?
I have been a master instructor and volunteer with Surfers For Autism since 2011. My experiences volunteering to teach children with autism how to surf has been life-changing. This is where I realized my ability to authentically connect with special-needs children and my passion to effectively teach all levels of abilities. I also work for The Mini Bar as their catering coordinator. I met the owners when they reached out to me to make donuts for our beach cleanup volunteers, before they even opened. Since then, they have been a loyal supporter of Clean Your 904 and I loved their business so much, I asked them if they had any opportunities for me to work with them. They do their catering all through email, and it was a perfect fit for me to work from anywhere while I’m in this transition of careers.
Who are some women in your field you look to for inspiration?
My local favorite ladies I look up to are Lindsay Amerault from The Admiral’s Daughters, Brooke Sams with The Mini Bar, and Katie Werhner from Fig & Willow Boutique. All BA babes pursuing their passions who have been constant motivation for me to pursue my own.
How do you balance your time and stay organized from hustle-to-hustle?
I recently got a planner with time slots, and it’s been a game-changer. I would always unrealistically cram way too many tasks into my day and would feel major guilt for not getting to them. Now, I realistically plan my day and even schedule little things, like giving myself enough time to eat (sitting down at a table) and scheduling me-time where I might go for an unplugged walk on the beach or binge-watch “Chicago PD.” My favorite planner is from Passion Planner and my favorite project planning tools are from Get To Work Book. These have helped me tremendously when I feel overwhelmed by how many tasks I need to get done and, helps me accomplish them one step at a time.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Truly take time for yourself and you will feel a shift in your personal and professional life. It’s OK to say no to things or people who are no longer serving your happiness. The biggest contributor to the space I’m in right now is my newfound ability to ask for help. Seeking support is not a sign of weakness, but rather the opportunity to improve.
In partnership with: CleanYour904
Join us as we combine forces with Clean Your 904 for a cleanup event in Riverside Park located in Historic Five Points on Saturday, February 2nd from 10AM-12PM. Anyone and everyone is encouraged to attend this free, family-friendly event as we spend a Saturday morning working together to help care for one of the many wonderful parks Jacksonville has to offer. Click here for more information + to RSVP!