#23: Meet Jerry and the Wonder Garden
“My daughter Beth introduced me to Denver Urban Gardens around 6 years ago. She’s always been a big DUG fan. She received an impact award at DUG’s annual fundraiser for her role as Garden Leader at the Academia Sandoval school garden. She first became an advocate for community urban gardens when she worked with Hmong people in their gardens in Rhode Island.
When I knew that I wanted to dedicate a community garden in my late wife Jacquelyn’s memory, I asked DUG where the best place for us to support a new garden would be and they gave me a list of a half dozen sites. Jacquelyn overcame learning disabilities throughout her life and one of her interests was how people learn and how the brain works. The idea of openness and creativity were always themes in her life. The educational partnership made that much more sense.
DUG’s model of partnering with schools is really a win-win deal. Seeing the success of Wyatt Academy really resonated with me. They had just done their goal-setting for the year, and one of their core values for the school was “wonder”- which was serendipitous. It was DUG’s introduction to the prospect of a garden there that began the journey.
I grew up in Washington DC and moved to Denver in the early ‘60s after graduating law school. I had a very satisfying and varied career as a practicing lawyer. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a general practice, which has allowed me to engage with the community in pro bono cases and community work.
In the legal profession, it’s important to choose something where you’re following your bliss because it can often get too demanding. The skills you develop allow you to do an awful lot professionally and community-wise because you learn how society works, and how infrastructure, business, and government all interact.
Through my involvement on the board of the Denver partnership, with the Bar Association, and in other leadership positions, I’ve been able to make a difference in the community. I co-founded the non-profit organization Invest in Kids in the 90s. It’s a wonderful early childhood program. It began as a Nurse-Family Partnership where registered nurses visit first-time mothers from the time of their pregnancy till their child is 2 ½ years old. Now they have two other evidence-based programs and the model is used nationally.
I’m very interested in MVP (Micro-venture Philanthropy). I get personal satisfaction from being hands-on and monitoring the projects I fund and getting to see small projects be efficient and succeed. It’s so satisfying to have ideas and watch them develop and take off.
I believe that community gardens help build the “town-gown” connection by getting people in the neighborhood. Partnering with a school allows you to provide a type of educational experience for students that they otherwise might not have had. Seeing the kids release the butterflies at the garden opening party and the garden shed mural painted by students was magical.
It’s been an inspiration to work with the school. Their connection with the community is just wonderful. They have a community-based social services center that provides meals, supplies, and assistance to the families of the kids who attend the school and to the community generally. The school has become part of that community in a most effective way. I know Jacqueline would have loved the site of the garden just as much as I do.
My hope is that the model of funding and process we used at the Wonder Garden will be replicated and expanded upon. I’m just happy that I had the opportunity to add to the DUG network and encourage this model of fundraising and development to appeal to others who want to dedicate gardens as memorials or in honor of someone. I would tell others like me to just go out and do it! There’s a lot that each of us can do in our communities. I’m so gratified by everything we were able to accomplish. This is the way it ought to work!