By Jesse Chambers, Iron City Ink —
There have been other days of service for community volunteers in Birmingham’s District 9, but they were not nearly as big as the one held in the district on Saturday, March 4 – with eight projects in six neighborhoods – according to Birmingham City Council member Marcus Lundy.
“We’ve never done it on such a grand scale, but we’ve never had the cooperation, collaboration and partnership like we have had today,” Lundy said Saturday, citing the help of Mayor William Bell’s office, various city departments and at least a dozen nonprofits and area businesses.
“It’s amazing what you can do when you work together,” Lundy said.
At least 200 volunteers from inside and outside District 9 were expected to join with representatives from the other partners on a cool, sunny Saturday morning on a wide variety of projects, including painting, cleanup and other beautification efforts, in Dolomite, Wylam, Enon Ridge, Evergreen, South Pratt and East Thomas.
Walking trail a ‘dream realized’
In South Pratt, about 40 volunteers met at Peace Missionary Baptist Church to help pick up trash or to assist Dr. Henry Hughes of the Birmingham Botanical Gardens in planting about 30 native trees alongside a new walking trail being built near Village Creek.
The trail, which will have lighting and rows of trees on both side, will “draw attention to the creek as a community amenity – not as a drainage ditch, but as something the community can focus on and enjoy recreationally, aesthetically,” said Hughes, who was assisted in the planting by members of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity.
“We want the residents to take pride in (the trail) and keep it clean, and we want folks to get out on the trail and take advantage of the opportunities for exercise and fellowship,” Lundy said as he visited the site Saturday morning and chatted with volunteers. “It’s something when folks are taking advantage of the amenities of the community how it creates a sense of pride.”
When the trail is open, it will be “a dream realized,” Lundy said, citing years of advocacy for the project by Dr. Mable Anderson of the Village Creek Society.
Along with the trail, the project will include a linear park running roughly between Avenue F and Avenue W that will have green space and room for events, according to Lundy. “We want to get this open,” he said.
The trees being planted by the volunteers included catalpa, “an old-time tree planted around here for the last 100 years,” a variety of oaks, green ash and some maples, Hughes said.
All of the seedlings were from local seeds harvested in the area, some about three years ago, according to Hughes.
“The trees will help draw people to the trail,” he said. “It will be a much nicer trail to walk on.”
Hughes said the trail could help be the start of something big for South Pratt. “The more people you have down here using (the trail), the safer people feel about being here, and that draws people,” he said. “And this is just a little start to get that kicked off, but I think I think we’re onto something really good. This is a really beautiful area.”
The tree planting is “good for the community, and we’re giving it a better look since all the damage,” said Kappa Alpha Psi volunteer Jorrell Johnson, referring to the devastation in Pratt City caused by the tornadoes of April 2011.
Keeping Birmingham ‘clean and green’
At Peace Missionary, Brenda Dent of the group Keep Birmingham Beautiful gave instructions to other volunteers – including UAB students and members of the Delta Zeta Gamma sorority – who would help her pick up trash in the area. She expressed pleasure with the turnout.
“This is wonderful, because we are trying to keep Birmingham beautiful, clean and green, and to remove the litter from the city helps with that,” she said. “It enhances the neighborhood and the economy. We are trying to reduce blight and make sure that our neighborhoods are clean.”
“It’s great to get out and take a break from my studies and help out in the community,” said Taylor Baskin, a downtown resident, UAB student and Albert Schweitzer fellow as she picked up trash.
Baskin came to the site with two other UAB students and Schweitzer fellows, Rachel Stokes and Aissatou Barry-Blocker.
South Pratt is a historic area but is probably the smallest of Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods and often gets overlooked, according to Lundy.
“I am grateful that people thought enough to come out to South Pratt and make sure it gets the attention it deserves,” the councilor said.
Learning where food comes from
At least 30 volunteers, as well as staff from Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, FreshWater Land Trust and the Village Creek Society, met at Wilkerson Middle School in East Thomas to clean and renovate a vegetable garden on school grounds.
Volunteers weeded the existing garden beds, put in new mats to prevent weeds from coming back and put fresh soil on top, according to Charles Miller, an AmeriCorps volunteer with FreshWater Land Trust.
“One of the science teachers at the middle school will have his students out here learning about gardening,” Miller said.
Volunteers included UAB students, community members and – perhaps most important, according to Miller – a youth group from the First Baptist Church of East Thomas.
“I think it’s great to get kids engaged, because that’s where you really get people,” Miller said. “We all remember stuff from our childhood. It really affects you as an adult.”
And what lessons did Miller want to impart to those young people?
“A lot of people think, especially in urban areas, that food comes from a grocery store, not from a plant,” he said. “So (the kids) get to see first-hand with their own eyes where their food comes from.”
Other volunteers in East Thomas were scheduled to do some clean-up along a walking trail near Dorothy Spears Park.
A mini-health fair was held all morning in the Wilkerson School gymnasium, with participants including Samford University, the UAB School of Public Health and the American Heart Association.
Other projects scheduled
Dolomite – Trash pick-up along Tin Mill Road and Pleasant Grove Road.
Wylam – Clean-up near Fire Station #17 and on Tin Mill Road and 8th Avenue; beautification efforts at the vest-pocket park; and the painting of a mural by Tynes Signs on the exterior wall of Colston and Brown Barber Shop.
Enon Ridge – Cleaning out limbs and underbrush, planting shrubs and adding a gravel trail at the mini-park.
Evergreen – Repairs and improvements to tables, benches and playground equipment in the park adjacent to Evergreen Community Center.
Other nonprofits or businesses involved in running projects or sponsoring the day of service included GASP, Cahaba River Society, Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve, The Nature Conservancy, BEAT Housing, Marino’s Market and Vulcan Materials.