Just about a year ago 250 volunteers descended on an abandoned urban lot and transformed it into a vibrant, new playground and community garden. This new playground, at the corner of Heard Street and Spruce Street, was made possible through a collaboration with KaBOOM!, the Chelsea Green Space Committee and the City of Chelsea.
Today, many children can be seen playing and climbing on the structures, drumming on the drums and running around in the new open play area. Just next to the playground is Chelsea’s newest community garden. However, this garden has a unique feature: it is dedicated to youth. That’s right, the garden is an educational tool to teach young people how to grow their own vegetables and fruit, and the importance of eating healthy, local foods. Presently, the garden is being led by two youth groups: Green Space’s Environmental Chelsea Organizers and youth from the REACH program. However, a third youth group has played an integral part in making the youth garden successful: YouthBuild Just a Start.
YouthBuild, based out of the non-profit Just a Start (JAS) in Cambridge, hires many young people from Chelsea. While the teens earn a high school diploma or GED, they also learn valuable vocational skills and prepare for their next step in Post Secondary Education. YouthBuild JAS participated in the playground and garden construction day and subsequent build days. Sal Mancini, Youth Build’s Field Coordinator said, “on the afternoon of the playground building, we mixed approximately 4 pallets of concrete and moved 4000 pounds of mulch.” After the park’s build day, the carpentry work was not complete. Luis Hernandez, a local youth and student at Youthbuild JAS, checked on the playground and his new, neighborhood garden frequently. Luis observed that there was still a lot of work to be done at the garden and made an excellent suggestion to Joel Miranda, Assistant Program Director at Youth Build JAS. He told Joel that the YouthBuild JAS crews could lend a hand and finish the work that was started last year. So Joel reached out to Chelsea Green Space and offered additional help. Youth Build JAS crews built raised garden beds, benches and a chalk board for youth to enjoy while tending to their garden. Lastly, they offered to donate a shed that was built as part of a construction class, and located on Chelsea Housing Authority property. According to Sal, the “shed was a lesson on how to build a house. So the youth put vinyl siding, 25-year shingles and roofing and windows on it as if it was a mini house.” He continued to say that the shed was valued at approximately $8,000 in materials alone. Sal said “if you can move it, you can take it.” So Green Space contacted friends at the New England Produce Center (NEPC) to see if a forklift could be utilized to move the shed. NEPC’s forklifts could not handle the 8,000lbs that the shed weighs, but they put Green Space into contact with G & J towing who offered to assist with the shed’s move.
On a gray Wednesday morning, G & J Towing brought 6 men, two flatbed trucks, a tow truck and a forklift. Five hours later the shed was moved from its construction site at Watts St. to its new home at the Youth Garden at Heard Street. G & J valued their donated time and materials at $2,500. But to the youth and supporting community members, the donation of the shed and its transport were invaluable.
In order to fully support the shed’s new location YouthBuild JAS constructed a new foundation and steps with a pull-out ramp for the shed at the garden.
YouthBuild Program Director Roberta Sanders stated, “ the total value of Youth Build’s time and materials likely exceeds $20,000.” She discussed the possibility of continuing the relationship by having on-going community service days where Youth Build JAS crews could come to all of Green Space’s community gardens and offer carpentry and other support. Green Space Lead Organizer Jovanna Garcia Soto said “it will be wonderful to continue our relationship with Youth Build JAS to expand gardening opportunities in Chelsea.”
For more information on the youth garden, please contact Jovanna at (617) 889-6080×104. For more information on Youth Build Just A Start, please contact Alison Shultz at (617) 492-1460.