"French Creek and the Lake Erie Shoreline"

Diversity Helps Community Gardens Thrive

The soil, flowers and mulch that abound at the Conservancy’s nearly 140 community gardens provide the backdrop for approximately 12,000 volunteers with diverse backgrounds.

WPC’s Judy Wagner explains flower gardening.
WPC’s Judy Wagner explains flower gardening.

“Gardening has universal appeal. It motivates every kind of person — big, small, young and old — to get involved,” said Judy Wagner, senior director of the Gardens and Greenspace program.

WPC relies on diverse organizations locally to keep the community gardens thriving. This fall, teachers and students from the Western Pennsylvania’s School for the Deaf pulled flowers, preparing the garden for winter at Barry Street and Josephine Avenue on the South Side slopes in Pittsburgh.

Youth groups like Braddock Youth, an afterschool and summer work program in Braddock, Pa., use garden volunteer activities to teach students how to tend to gardens and provide a venue to participate in community work.

Volunteers from the Western
Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.
Volunteers from the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf.

The Pittsburgh Project, a faith-based program that conducts job training for Pittsburgh’s most vulnerable residents, uses WPC’s community gardens to help students learn leadership skills. Gavin Deming, community specialist for the Gardens and Greenspace program, has a personal connection to the group; he originally came to the region by volunteering and mentoring youth in the Pittsburgh Project.

Even local athletic groups like the Duquesne Women’s Basketball Team and Steel City Boxing work with WPC staff to help plant local gardens each year.

“These gardens provide diverse folks an opportunity to interact with nature and with other people. It gives people a sense of camaraderie and an awareness of their community and it shows how important it is to get together to make things happen,” said Wagner.

Tim Allen, manager of the CONNECT program at GlobalPittsburgh, said, “We receive requests from our international guests to specifically volunteer at Western Pennsylvania Conservancy’s community flower gardens. The experience they receive and the diverse people they meet make an impact on them; they feel they are really making a difference helping Pittsburgh.”

Students from Weil Elementary School help with a school
grounds planting.
Students from Weil Elementary School help with a school grounds planting.

GlobalPittsburgh creates long-term relationships with various professionals and students around the world by connecting them with leaders and organization in the greater Pittsburgh region. The group’s international members come to study at local universities or work at hospitals and businesses. GlobalPittsburgh connects visitors with local residents to facilitate cultural exchange.

A journalist from Yemen, visiting the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, helped plant a garden in May. Three doctors from China visiting UPMC with their families helped tend to the Birmingham Bridge garden on the South Side, and a University of Pittsburgh nursing student from Kenya helped plant flowers earlier this year. Turan Jafarova, a Duquesne University student from Azerbaijan, located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea, has tended a garden the past two years. This past summer high school students from Iraq worked on a garden in Shadyside.

“I often hear back from the international guests about how proud they feel about their work on the community gardens and that they’re happy to have a small part in beautifying Pittsburgh,” Allen said. GlobalPittsburgh has partnered with WPC for the last four years.