Tuesday, September 8, 2015

NHS Works with Yale Sophomores on Ivy Street

written by Theo Wuest

On the morning of Monday, August 24, a group of about ten Yale students arrived at NHS of New Haven's campus. They were about to begin their week of service through Dwight Hall’s FOCUSon New Haven program, which at the end of every summer sends rising sophomores and upperclassmen group leaders to work with local nonprofits and see the city from a different perspective. 

The students who came were led by Lauren Blonde, an architecture major and a friend of NHS, who was returning for a third consecutive year of working with us through FOCUS. The group was set to work in the community garden on Ivy Street for about twenty hours, Monday-Thursday, with many items lined up for them to do during their time.

First off: the garden needed general upkeep. The students, alongside NHS' Community Building & Organizing team, watered, weeded, and picked up trash. There were tables and chairs that needed painting and staining, as well as a broken umbrella pole that needed to be replaced. 

Our largest project was the construction of a fence adjacent to the greenhouse. The space between the greenhouse and the neighboring property is currently unused and full of weeds, wildflowers, and rocks, a waist-high wilderness we needed to weed-whack to traverse. While having the pleasant appearance of a natural meadow, it needed maintenance and was not a good first impression of the garden when entering from the Shelton Avenue gate.

The solution devised by Lauren and CBO director Stephen Cremin-Endes was to use some wooden pallets leftover in the garden to build a fence. We would dig holes, mix concrete, and erect posts cut from spare four-by-fours. We would then attach, vertically, the newly sanded and oiled pallet. When all was said and done, it would look like a slatted fence, running from the corner of the greenhouse to the edge of the property. Eventually, another will be built on the other side of the wildflower garden. One student even used her Girl Scout expertise to lash together a fence with branches and twine to be attached when a hinge was installed.

I, myself, arrived on Tuesday, as the project started in earnest. A few students sawed fence-posts, others dug holes, and others coated the tables with linseed oil. After digging the holes and cutting two four-by-fours, we played around with concrete until the posts were safely set. The rest of the concrete was used for found-object art. 

The next day, we dug more holes for new posts and started to attach pallet to the ones we installed the preceding day. The wood, however, was treated and well-weathered, and it was almost impossible to drill through the four inches, let alone put in a screw. But throughout all of Wednesday and Thursday, with some experimentation, some frustration, some exasperation, some cooperation, and a great deal of physical exertion, the pallet were up. The front fence was close to finished and the part already constructed was sturdy and visually appropriate. A beautiful handmade gate was made with twine and expertise, soon to be attached.

By the time all of our work was completed, it was Thursday, time for the volunteers to take their leave. We took a group photograph and there plenty of friendly chatter as they helped pack up to go. Speaking with them, I found that the most common sentiment among them was gratefulness for or interest in seeing New Haven from a different perspective. The garden, once again, looked clean and healthy.

That evening, all the FOCUS students met for a large dinner at Dwight Hall. Stephen and I were invited, along with representatives of other non-profits, and were served a menagerie of delicious New Haven takeout. But the most important thing was that we were able to thank our volunteers once more for their dedicated service. We enjoyed working with them and hope to see them again soon.

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