By Kevin Enos
Jackson Advocate Guest Writer
As temperatures begin to reflect the change from summer to fall, farmers have spent time working the soil for another planting season. Cultivation requires a combination of preparation and nurturing to effectively produce yields. This labor of love was in full swing at Gertrude’s Garden, a community garden in the Burgland neighborhood of McComb. On September 11th, a team participated in sowing the seeds of love in the community.
Volunteers from around the city came out to support the monthly community meet-and-greet held at the garden. Residents were treated to BBQ, music, and games. Many used the opportunity to talk with familiar neighbors and to meet and interact with new people from other communities within the city.
For many of the volunteer team, this was their first time facilitating the event. One volunteer characterized the outreach as a moment to meet other volunteers, residents, and a chance to give back to the community. She was happy to serve people in need, especially those that may have needed the hot meal that they received.
The meet-and-greet places relationship-building at its core as an essential element of fostering growth and serving with a purpose. The community engagements help to break through surface interactions to allow genuine conversations about the community, personal challenges and goals; interests and inspirations.
Local children were part of the engagement as participants and were excited to become agents of change. Volunteers actively nurtured their curiosity, learned their interests, and provided constructive feedback and encouragement in their endeavors.
Sheilar Conerly-Pickens from Pleasant Grove East McComb Outreach Ministry, stated, “My most precious experience was that there were children that walked up and began conversations. They shared their stories and the activities that had taken place before I arrived, such as the painting, the games, etc. The happiness in their eyes could never be replaced. Children love it when we as adults take the time to show love, listen, and reply with compassion, interest, and concern, in addition to letting them know they’ve done a good job.”
Gertrude’s Garden is a repurposed lot in the midst of vacant and abandoned properties within a few yards of the Burgland Heights housing complex. The garden serves as a beacon of hope in an area of neglect and isolation.
Mamie Kettle, President of the McComb Branch NAACP, shared, “The housing unit is known for negative living conditions. However, Gertrude’s Garden gives the children and parents a sense of hope and it helps to have people like the volunteers that showed up, because they care about the community. It takes one small gesture that can change many lives. Showing love and compassion is what the community needs to heal from all negativity.”
Youth Undertaking New Goals (Y.U.N.G.) Citizens, one of the event sponsors, uses the word “Citizens” as a verb. YC’s initiatives focus on engagement, education, and empowerment. Youth are encouraged to become participants and leaders in the process of ushering-in positive change. Re-imagining and repurposing is a foundational principle of the garden’s operational structure.
The children in attendance were empowered to be a part of the solution by painting fixtures in the garden to increase environmental wellness. A trash receptacle and a bench constructed out of repurposed cinder blocks and wood were painted with vibrant colors, radiating a warmth into the residential space.
Lynn Martin, a member of the McComb School District Board of Trustees, was inspired by the ownership mindset of the youth in their own environment. “I was pleased with the entire event, especially being there to see the excitement of the students who participated in the painting activity. I hope that they will continue to enjoy being able to lend a hand in making their community look more colorful. We’ve got to keep them active!”
The sowing of these volunteers is already producing a positive yield through the environmental transformation and positive leadership actions of the “Garden Kids.”
Glenda Jordan, a community advocate and artist, shared her experience of the event, which summarized the day, “Every small step we take is a step forward in helping to build the community and creating change for generations and generations to come.