I recently spent my Saturday participating in the Green Apple Day of Service program, organized by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). I had volunteered months back and had been paired with a school that was requesting professional assistance. In this case, I became partnered with two adjacent schools in Blue Island that were both looking to build gardens.
Over the course of the last two months, the designs took shape: one to beautify a relatively bare courtyard, the other raised garden beds for classroom planting programs. As we got closer to the date, I became aware of the other players, including the City of Blue Island and the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC), that were working together to address storm water issues in the community. These gardens had a bigger role in helping the community understand the benefits of native plantings and how to integrate rain barrels as a means of capturing storm water and delaying it from entering the storm sewer.
A week from the event I started to get nervous because the number of moving pieces and different players gave it a high degree of difficulty. I tried to reassure myself that whatever happened on the day-of would be a success, even if we didn’t accomplish everything we set out to do. I hoped I was ready.
In the end, I wasn’t ready for what happened, but not for the reasons I’d anticipated. The effort eclipsed every hope I had for the project.
In one day I saw more than 100 volunteers of different backgrounds come together to make these projects happen. I saw teachers, parents, students, members of the community, neighbors, City and Park District employees, MPC staff, and members of the Illinois Chapter of the USGBC volunteer their time. I saw all these people not only give a large portion of their Saturday to help, but also bring their tools and unique skills to the job. I saw a neighbor from down the block bring a small front-end-loader he owned to help move dirt and mulch. I saw principals pay out of their own pockets for needed materials and for food to keep volunteers going. I saw students excited to learn how to plant and care for a garden. I saw the transformative power of a neighborhood coming together to accomplish a common goal.
In the middle of the day I overhead someone joke, “It takes a village.” It is easy to fall into that trap of being sarcastic and dismissive, to act like we are not moved by true acts of kindness and community. Maybe we throw that attitude up there as a defense. The truth is, I found it hard not to be moved by how much we can care for each other, for strangers, for people trying to make things better. I am always more excited and engaged on projects, whether they are volunteer or paid, where people are passionate about the outcome. Here was a case where that passion was evident.
In the end, we got it done. We constructed 13 raised planter boxes; planted five trees, 70 shrubs and 900 perennials; moved 40 yards of soil, 30 yards of mulch, 20 yards of sand and 20 yards of peat moss. We came together and accomplished our goal. At the end of the day I felt exhausted, but I look forward to checking in over the next year both on the gardens and on the people.
Want to read more about the Green Apple Day of Service? See what the Metropolitan Planning Council had to say about it!