United Way Of Metropolitan Atlanta
“Seed money” yielding harvest from the community garden
West End resident helps bring together people and resources to improve neighborhood
If you could bottle success, it would easier to repeat that success elsewhere. DeBorah Williams is doing just 1 hat with, of all things, bottled homegrown peppers.
When Williams, a minister who works with shut-ins and prison inmates, first moved into her West End neighborhood eight years ago, the area was as dangerous as any in Atlanta. “I used to watch the drug dealers gather at the vacant lot on the corner. People were afraid to leave their houses.” She started with the idea of getting seniors to make a community garden on the land there. The group got permission to use the land and started a flower garden, but Williams felt that youth needed to be involved, too. “I thought ‘Oh no, we’re 1101 going to breed any more drug dealers here!’ But there had to be something to draw them in. We had to find some money to pay them to work the garden during the summer.”
Catholic Social Services, operating a United Way-supported Grassroots Organizing program for neighborhood development, offered a $4,000 grant to pay stipends to three teens to work the garden. It was also decided to grow vegetables that the seniors could keep as a reward for their effort. Five years later, with the help of other grants, The West End Community Garden Club now employs six local youths helping the seniors. A bond has been created between young and old that would not have happened otherwise.
But that’s not the end of this story. Two years ago Williams had the vision of bottling peppers in vinegar and selling the product in area restaurants and stores. With the help of the agriculture department at Georgia State University, the vision was realized and the “Atlanta’s Own Hot Urban Success” brand started showing up on ti e tables of local eateries. Not satisfied with this, Williams has been working with 12 other community gardens around Atlanta to replicate the intergenerational concept. She is hot on the trail of a block grant to buy a small piece of property and open a curb market where “Atlanta’s own, community has grown” produce could be sold and the proceeds used to create more jobs and to fund local projects for participant gardens.
“This is an incubator for others to go by,” Willaims says. “Employ youth, get the neighbors to know one another, reduce crime. Because every corner where you put a garden only lets people know that somebody cares, somebody’s watching. This is big!”
Amazing what a little “seed money” can do.
United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta has a plan that addresses the root causes of crime, breaks the cycle of violence and helps make sure basic needs are met. Involving citizens — adults and youngsters — in their community is one of the strategies that is helping this plan make a significant impact neighborhoods in Metro Atlanta