by Pamela B. Daniels
Call me old school, but there’s just something so fulfilling about volunteering. I remember clearly my years at Mt. Vernon Elementary School, the good ole days, when the Do Something Club was thriving as an after school program. It felt like the whole school in one way or another participated. Perhaps because Mr. Wild tripled as Do Something Club Advisor, Basketball Team Coach, and favorite Math teacher so one way or another, service made it’s way into your daily regime.
Anyway, I remember Do Something, not only because they sponsored the annual Kindness & Justice Challenge, where students would compete with one another in performing as many random acts of kindness as possible – I still have my first place trophy from ’99, but because every year, for a whole Saturday, volunteers, and a combination of school and community family poured into the school on a spring morning to roll up their sleeves and get busy. Doing what? Everything! From painting over graffiti in the bathrooms to scrubbing hallways, scraping gum from under desks to repainting lines on the playground. A team was even commissioned to go across the street to Ivy Hill Park to pick up trash and wash down the railings, slides, water fountains and benches.
I don’t know what it was that made that day so memorable, nearly twenty years later. Maybe it was the free lunch that inevitably came at the end of a day’s work. Perhaps it was the incessant fun that came with washing paint off my hands with orange glow, or simply the positive aura that exuded around me as dozens of young people and community family contributed to restoring our school building and play areas. Whatever it was, it was something that has stayed with me to this day.
Although it is now my job to plan these kinds of activities at UVSO, I still take such joy on volunteer event days, when all hands are on deck young and old together to beautify the community. UVSO currently manages two community gardens through our Heart of Vailsburg (HOV) Organizing Project: 1068 18th Avenue and 69 Norwood Street. HOV Norwood is in its fifth season as an organic and primarily vegetable garden. HOV 18th Avenue is in its fourth season as an organic herb & flora space. Both locations are beautiful not only because of the precious plants that grow therein, but because each of them were launched and maintained through a concerted community effort. When I’m in those gardens with (my own) neighbors, I feel that same rush of excitement and joy that I felt those many years ago in the halls of Mt. Vernon School and in Ivy Hill Park. I feel hope for my community because I am surrounded by people who feel compelled to do more than just live in a neighborhood, but rather contribute to her growth and sustainability.
If you are interested in volunteering at the HOV Gardens or along neighbors in other projects, please reach out to the UVSO Department of Community Outreach & Planning at 973.374.2000 ext. 1402.