Even though he wasn't a gardener, Jim recognized the benefits beautiful plants and parks would have for the community. Working with other volunteers they selected an 80- by 130-foot-wide lot at a busy intersection in the neighborhood, cleaned out the trash, and started planting flowers. Their work caught the attention of not only the neighbors, but also a local community action group called Gateway Greening. Gateway Greening has been helping St. Louis neighborhoods beautify their communities for 20 years by building community gardens in abandoned lots. Gateway Greening helped Jim and his neighbors turn an eyesore into an award winning ornamental garden.
The Morning Glory Garden, as it was named to reflect a new day in the community, had immediate effects. Neighbors started cleaning up their own yards. Crime went down and drug peddlers moved on. "We now have young families moving into the neighborhood and property values have soared since we began rebuilding our neighborhood through gardening," says Jim.
Jim was convinced of the power of gardening, but needed more gardening knowledge himself. He became a Master Gardener though the University of Missouri program and became a regular volunteer with Gateway Greening to help other neighborhoods begin gardens.
A few years later Jim helped create the Fox Park Farm, where community residents could grow their own vegetables in 30 raised beds. Another success is the DeSales Garden. The DeSales Community Housing Corporation tore down what had been a drug house and donated the property for a 20-raised bed garden. Jim helped supervise not only volunteer gardeners, but also adult offenders on probation doing their community service. "It was a way for these offenders give something back to the community," he says. For his more than 9,000 volunteer hours helping 30 communities in St. Louis over the last 10 years, Jim has been recognized with a commendation from the U.S. Attorney in Eastern Missouri.
Not only has Jim helped rebuild his community, he's become a better gardener in the process. "I bought a lot adjacent to my home and planted flowers and shrubs, and built a fish pond and an outdoor track. I like to run around the track and enjoy the view," he says. Although he's still committed to creating better neighborhoods, Jim is pulling back a bit to enjoy the gardens he's helped build. "It's great feeling driving around the city and knowing that I helped start many of these gardens," says Jim.
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