Orange, Blue and Green All Over in Bronzeville

Orange, Blue and Green All Over in Bronzeville
Companions in a Job Well Done
 
Chicago Bears, Charles (Peanut) Tillman and Johnny Knox team up with TRC Bronzeville Green to beautify the neighborhood

A few weeks ago Lowes, the home improvement giant, teamed up with the Chicago Bears to sponsor a vote for your favorite not for profit to beautify your neighborhood.  As soon as I received the “vote for us” request from The Renaissance Collaborative staff person Latriece Hall I put my social media hat on and forwarded the request to a bunch of friends from my social media class.  Emails flew fast and furious from all quarters of the net; from address books belonging to the Executive Director of TRC, Pat Abrams and Walter Bush the TRC staff member who heads up the organizations Bronzeville Green Landscaping project, just to
mention a few.  The results were an astonishing lead for TRC to the finish line culminating in a $25,000 gift certificate from Lowe’s, a week-end of concentrated effort on the part of Lowe’s volunteers, Bronzeville Green crew, TRC staff and friends and yours truly.  Monday we were joined by Chicago Bears, Charles (Peanut) Tillman and Johnny Knox.

Needless to say, we were all thrilled to see the transformation of the existing organic community garden into a wonderful spot to not only grow vegetables but also a place to just sit and watch the bees pollinate the flowers and feel the sun on your face.  Monday we were looking for a spot in the sun to warm us. The Chicago Hawk was out there.  Amidst the celebrating and shivering, we ate typical tailgate fare of hot dogs, burgers and chili. BTW, Peanut flips a mean burger and Johnny is a planting machine.  The thought that continually popped into my head amidst all this gaiety was the real gift to this community was the work being done by the people at TRC Bronzeville Green.

Bronzeville Green is a social enterprise with the mission to bring landscaping services, green collar jobs and environmental
justice to the community.  It started because Executive Director, Pat Abrams with the  combined efforts of several churches of
varying denominations got together to tackle the renovation of the historic Bronzeville “Y”.  The project not only revitalized the building and prevented it from being demolished but also provided housing for one of the most difficult to house populations.  As Pat Abrams puts it, “I always ask the people we are serving what they want, not what I think they want.”  That philosophy started the discussion as to what to do with the vacant lot next to the revamped Bronzeville “Y”.  The tenants wanted a place to gather, a
garden.

In 2003 the long process began.  What would it cost?  Who would maintain it?  Professional landscaping fees were out of the question.  In 2005 the tenants took on the task of creating a usable space with a few donated perennials but a survey of the lot proved there wasn’t sufficient dirt for planting.  Claire Cardy, the master gardener working with us on Monday during the Lowe’s installation, told me there was nothing but rock under a very thin veil of unusable soil.

In 2005 Home Depot provided a $2,500 grant allowing the organization to plant a few vegetables amongst the rocks and rubble.
A self-starting and dedicated tenant, Malcolm Nightingale scrounged the surrounding area in 2006 to secure more soil. He and Claire Cardy started a composting project and planted a few more seeds. This was by no means the end of the challenges.

Vacant lots in urban areas are more often than not contaminated by industrial waste, lead containing paints, etc. not a great
place from which to harvest crops.  Raised planting beds were needed.  Tenants Cardy, Dixon and Crawford hauled in 110 yards of woodchips.  Over the years donations and hands on assistance has come from University of Illinois, Green Corps Chicago and City
Year but the real heroes are the staff of Bronzeville Green.

It might have started as tenants wanting a place to hang out and grow a few vegetables but it has morphed into a program dedicated to serving the community in more ways than one. The aim of Bronzeville Green is to provide tenants with a credible employment history and marketable job skills so that they can more easily re-enter the job market. TRC provides a transitional job training program designed to help TRC tenants and community residents to obtain self-sufficiency, employment and independence.  Bronzeville Green provides landscaping services that use traditional landscaping practices, no use of harmful chemicals and no practices that are damaging to the environment. As TRC’s Walter Bush puts it, “It’s about our triple bottom line, the people, the environment and efficiency.”

This past week-end Lowe’s, the Chicago Bears and the community of supporters showed loads of love for what the team at TRC Bronzeville Green is doing for the community. If you need landscape services; want to be environmentally conscious and use a triple bottom line company all at the same time, you can reach them at Bronzeville Green 773-924-9270 ext. 29. Keep greening!

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