United Way of Greater New Haven sent in the following writeup by Cara McDonough from a recent community service event.
New Haven’s Davenport Children’s Community Garden in the Hill was abuzz with activity as volunteers weeded, raked and added fresh dirt to raised beds, which will soon be thriving with fruits, vegetables and herbs, such as eggplant, basil, strawberries and cucumbers.
“This is very helpful,” said Lena Largie, who acts as one of the community organizers for the garden, which is managed by the New Haven Land Trust. “Once we get this done, all we have to worry about is getting the plants in.”
The organized effort, part of United Way of Greater New Haven’s Hands-On Saturday last weekend, illustrated how much work can get done when a group of committed volunteers dedicate a few hours to a community project.
This year the family-friendly event focused on three New Haven-area sites in need of spring cleaning: In addition to the garden, volunteers had gathered at West Haven Community House and the Phoenix Press Farm, part of New Haven Farms. (You can see a gallery of photos from each site here.)
United Way of Greater New Haven created Hands-On Saturday last year to address a need for family-friendly volunteer activities. This year, 58 volunteers signed up, and many more showed up at the three sites ready to work.
“We had moms and dads and children and many volunteers from local businesses,” said United Way Volunteer Programs Manager Jan McCray. “Volunteering is a way that anybody, no matter their financial status, can contribute to community,” she said.
“We are elated by the community’s response to our call for volunteers,” said McCray. “Together, we were able to beautify outdoor play areas for children, helping them to be more active and healthy, and cultivate urban gardens to increase access to fruits and vegetables in low-income neighborhoods.”
Volunteerism is a key element of United Way’s strategy to mobilize the community around the common good. The organization hosts volunteer activities all year round, from Hands-On Saturday, to Days of Caring in the fall, with many activities in between, including the Registry Week canvass of the chronically homeless population kicking off on May 12, and the Kindergarten Canvass every August.
The volunteers themselves understood the importance of their contributions.
“We’re giving a nice sparkle to the building,” said Hands-On Saturday volunteer Charles Price as he weeded at the West Haven Community House. In addition, volunteers were raking, sweeping and generally tidying the space, which includes eight head-start classrooms on site, a playground, and a group home for disabled adults nearby.
Price had brought his brothers – aged 6 and 8 – along to help out, and they weren’t the only young people working hard – and learning the value of community service – on the sunny Saturday morning; children were present at each of the volunteer sites.
Organized groups from local businesses and non-profits were helping out, too. “We’re going to put in four or five hours here and see what we can do,” said Anthony Nicolosi, a store manager from the West Haven Target. The store had gathered about a dozen volunteers who were working at the Community House that morning.
There were also volunteers from EMERGE CT, a group that provides offenders re-entering the workforce with training and other support. “I’ve done some wrong in my life and I’m in the process of giving back,” said David Thomas, of donating his time that day.
Meanwhile, back at the Davenport Community Garden at 145 Davenport Ave., a group of co-workers from the Commercial Lending Department at the New Haven branch of TD Bank were working alongside one-another at a raised bed. “It’s fun, because you know the people you’re volunteering with and you’re helping the community,” said Lisette Miranda, who organized the group. She added, “And, you’re bonding with your coworkers.”
Among the other organizations that contributed their time and talent, were Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Penn Globe, and PolyOne/NEU Corporation.
At the Phoenix Press Farm on James Street in New Haven, volunteers quickly completed a successful “clean up day,” readying the farm – which works in partnership with the Fair Haven Community Health Center – for the upcoming season by weeding, picking up garbage and spreading 10 cubic yards of wood chips, said Jacqueline Maisonpierre, the Farm Manager. They planted several neat rows of vegetables and herbs, too.
Volunteer Sarah Baird explained that coming out solo for Hands-On Saturday had its advantages. “We got perfect weather, everyone was so nice, and I met people from other communities that I wouldn’t normally have met,” she said.
The family emphasis on this day of service provided parents and caregivers a way of instilling community service to young people.
“This gives them a sense of purpose, a feeling that they can make a difference in their community,” said Barbara Osahon of the teens she works with in the Teen Outreach Program (TOP) at Family Centered Services of Connecticut. She encourages them to volunteer regularly, including for Hands-On Saturday, at Davenport Community Gardens.
Cassandra Nonossi, also with Family Centered Services, said that the effort can have major repercussions, not only for the recipients, but for the volunteers themselves. “I think it’s important for the kids to take part in cleaning their community,” she said. “If they see the work it takes to keep this garden clean, they might be more likely to keep their own neighborhood clean, and that could help them in thinking about keeping the environment clean in general.”