Earlier this year, the children living near the El Jardin del Paraiso public park in the East Village got to adopt and name the trees on their block. Now, as the adoptive “parents” walk to school each day, they pass “Smokey,” “The Stickbug,” and “Mama Hey Hey,” each of the seven trees identified by a plaque bearing its new name and the names of all the participating children. Webs of string cover the plant and flower-filled tree beds to make it harder to throw trash in them – which, up until last spring, was what everyone seemed to do.
The neighborhood’s efforts to restore the trees were made possible with the Citizens Committee for NYC’s “Love Your Block” grant, which gives up to $1,000 to 25 neighborhood groups for community projects.
J.K. Canepa, a member of the steering committee for the El Jardin del Paraiso Medicinal Plot, says that before the community came together to restore the trees in their neighborhood, the tree pits were de facto garbage cans.
“Somebody put some bulbs in there so a few little daffodils keep poking up in the springtime, but otherwise, it was bags of dog turds and candy wrappers and bottles,” Canepa said and continued, “It was horrible and the kids walked past it every day to go to school.”
In addition to the funding, the grant program, which is in its 11th year, also provides these 25 neighborhoods with assistance from the New York Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection, Sanitation, and Parks and Recreation.
When Canepa and her friend — co-applicant Marie Argeris — applied for the grant, they decided to take advantage of all four departments, getting the Department of Sanitation to pick-up trash from around the neighborhood, water barrels from the Department of Environmental Protection, bike racks from the Department of Transportation, and a tree pruner from the Department of Parks and Recreation who helped the kids plant.
According to the Citizens Committee program coordinator Marina Gonzalez Flores, while the program aims to support lower income neighborhoods, the larger impact is the cross-cultural and cross-gender relationships that people build within their neighborhoods.
“It’s not only just cleaning and planting something in the ground, but it’s also coming out and meeting the person who lives next to you or the new neighbor that has come into this neighborhood,” Flores said.
Canepa hopes that passing the adopted trees every morning and seeing their names will give the kids in El Jardin del Paraiso a sense of empowerment.