Tag Archives: green volunteer

Jenny’s Garden a Hidden Treasure

28 Jun

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This past weekend I volunteered with New York Cares, Common Cents and others in Jenny’s Garden in West Harlem. The day was a celebration and kickoff of the National Conference on Volunteering and Service, which started today in NYC. With supplies generously donated by a corporate sponsor, we had enough mulch, top soil, hoes and rakes to keep us busy for hours. And busy we were…

The Riverside Valley Community Garden is on 138th and 12th Avenue inside of Riverside Park. It houses fresh vegetable and fruit plots that grow lettuce, potatoes, eggplant, peaches, plums, pears and cherries and more. This garden and many others within a 10 block radius, have been tended to by Jenny Benitez for the past 25 years. At 76, she has been volunteering her time every day to keep her neighborhood beautiful alongside other caring community members. Jenny was there on Saturday and the way she was pruning and digging and lifting and mulching, it seems clear that gardening is one great way to stay healthy and active! She is an amazing woman who, in the late eighties, saw a vacant lot filled with abandoned cars, drug addicts and garbage, and chose to do something about it. That lot is now a neighborhood gem and popular spot for groups of volunteers to get their hands dirty on summer weekends.

Arriving at 10am, our group of 25 volunteers received a brief tutorial on the tools we’d be using and where the gardens were located. They span about 20 blocks, sloping off of Riverside Drive and 12th Avenue, so it was good to have a sense of where we’d be for the day, if only to make sure we didn’t get lost from the pack. From the main Community Garden on 12th Avenue, we set out on Riverside Drive and spent the next three hours cleaning up a few large garden plots. We made a real difference that day, which is one of the best things about beautification projects: you can see results immediately, and that feels good.


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While I was on my hands and knees pulling weeds from the garden that ran along the street, I saw a pair of hands on the other side of the fence doing the same. I picked up my head to see an elderly gentleman holding car keys in one hand, and a mass of weeds in the other. I thanked him as he handed me his bounty to throw in our garbage bags, already full of pruned hedges and garbage, and with a nod of acknowledgment he went back to work on the weeds I couldn’t reach from inside the garden. It was touching to see someone stop what they’re doing and take a moment to help; he was seemingly a local, on his way to his car, and felt compelled to help, if only for 5 minutes. It made my day.

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We finished around 1pm, at which point we headed back to the Garden to eat pizza under the shade of grapes growing on a large trellis.  With the sun shining, surrounded by good people doing good things for an appreciative community, it was a truly great day.

You can help Jenny tend her gardens by volunteering solo or with a group. She’s a great woman who can teach you a thing or two about gardening, and she loves all volunteers that come to help. You can do so by visiting the Riverside Park Fund website and filling out the volunteer inquiry form, or sign up with New York Cares.

Thanks to the National Conference on Volunteering and Service for hosting the day and providing some sweet t-shirts for all the volunteers that came out to help Saturday. You can watch highlights of the conference and stay informed virtually by clicking here.



Volunteerism in Full Bloom

22 Apr

The sun is shining more and more each day, which means spring is here and summer is on its way! For those of you looking for volunteer opportunities that let you take advantage of the nice weather, look no further. Below is a list of places to go volunteer your time for good while catching some sun and fresh air.

Partnership for Parks: If you’re looking to volunteer in a park, this is a good place to start. For all intents and purposes, it’s the City of New York’s volunteer arm of the Park and Rec. Department; their mission is to help NYC parks thrive by strengthening a diverse, growing network of dedicated park volunteers and groups by creating opportunities to get more involved in all things Park. You can use this as a starting point to search for organizations near you (click here) that are beautifying parks right where you live! If you don’t want to go it alone, the Partnership is also able to organize group volunteer outings for corporate groups- click here for details.

It’s My Park Day: Don’t feel like sorting through the options? Then participate in the city’s annual ‘It’s My Park Day’ on May 15th. You don’t even have to register: just find a participating park and GO. Volunteer activities range from horticulture to painting projects, along with a variety of free events, including kayaking, dance performances, and more. There will be over 150 community organizations and parks participating, so chances are you won’t have to travel far if you live in one of the five boroughs (even you, Staten Islanders!). All of the locations aren’t listed yet, so check the website closer to the date for more details.

IOBY (In Our Backyards): IOBY is a great organization that connects donors and volunteers to projects that are going on right in their backyards (hence the name IOBY). Local groups post projects they are trying to complete in their community, and you can offer to help by volunteering your time or money towards their cause. Most of them are small-scale projects that you can help complete in a day, like putting up a fence or planting seeds in a garden. It’s an organization I can really get behind, because their niche is focused enough that everything posted is completely reasonable and feasible, affording opportunities to a lot of people who just need a little extra push to accomplish their goal.

Parks and Recreation Events Calendar: There are a ridiculous number of events going on in New York’s parks that you don’t know even know about. Or maybe you do, but don’t be such a narcissist, I wasn’t just talking to YOU. Anyway, on any given day this calendar will show you at least 4 or 5 opportunities you can get on board with. For example, every Tuesday at 7am you can head to Cobble Hill Park in Brooklyn to help maintain and beautify. A lot of the events are more about enjoying the parks and less about volunteering in them, but all of the places listed are typically open to accepting volunteers so it’s still a good Spring resource.

Shape Up New York: Do you have experience as a fitness instructor and want to use your powers for good? If so, you may be interested in Shape Up New York, where you can volunteer to teach a variety of classes and activities, including aerobics, yoga and pilates. They’re currently looking for instructors in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx, and the committment is a 6 or 8 week course, once a week.

The Gowanus Dredgers: This organization is dedicated to providing waterfront access and education to the public, running programs on the shorelines of Gowanus, Red Hook, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Staten Island and Long Island City, run by volunteers. You can take a self-guided tour of the canal using the Dredgers stash of canoes, and then get your hands dirty helping them clean up trash, restore the natural habitats along the canal, or participate in one of the other many programs they offer. To stay informed of volunteer opportunities, send them an email at dredgers@excite.com and ask to be put on their volunteer email list. If you happen to have a paddle, life jacket, or other equipment the Dregders may find useful, they take donations. Though I’d be interested to know why any New Yorker has extra paddles lying around, and where you store them…

Bronx River Alliance:They offer a variety of programs here that you can get involved in, including recreation, education, outreach, and of course, restoring and maintaining the river. You can help in any of these areas, and it will allow you to volunteer while enjoying the weather, and probably discovering a new part of New York you’ve never explored. If you would like to learn more about available opportunities, call or e-mail Michelle Williams at 718.430.4636 or michelle.williams@parks.nyc.gov.

Garden at Brooklyn Bridge Park: Head out to the Park on April 27th and join OneBrick in cleaning up this oft-forgotten park by the Brooklyn Bridge. The city-run side of BBP has little funding and requires a lot of volunteer hours to maintain it’s condition, so enjoy the view while you mulch, weed, plant and generally spruce up the area, knowing that you’re doing work that would have otherwise gone undone (RSVP with OneBrick here) Can’t make it on Tuesday? You can volunteer with the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy all season long; for more info, click here.

Hudson River Park: Further uptown on the west side lies the Hudson River Park, where you can volunteer every other Sunday in the South Promenade perennial beds while learning hands-on learn horticulture skills, such as weeding, thinning and pruning. New York Cares and Street Project run projects here on the other Sundays, so you’ve got options all month long. If you’re looking for a committment, you can volunteer at the Pier 66 Natural Habitat twice a month. This garden is not open to the public, so you’ll have a private place to call your own while you weed, prune, and transplant your heart out. For this, healthy, strong and hard working individuals are required, and some gardening experience preferred.

Million Trees NYC: They have one goal: plant 1 million trees over the next ten years in NYC. Want to help? There’s plenty of trees to go around. Click here to learn more about how to get your hands dirty. 325,275 trees and growing…LITERALLY!

Street Project and Urban Adventures: Once a month, you can sign up to volunteer with Street Project and go on an Urban Adventure! According to the website, “Urban Adventures was developed in conjunction with Mott Hall Middle School to provide an educational and recreational outlet to seventh graders. The 10 to 15 Mott Hall students who participate look to the program as an opportunity to explore the city”. The next event is a scavenger hunt in Central Park on June 12th (click here for info); previous adventures have included trips to museums, parks, exhibits, and zoos.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list… Have suggestions? Post them below in the comments section or email me at info@giveandgetnyc.com and I’ll add them to the list! Spring has Sprung! Get out there and volunteer!