Meanwhile, other teens were focusing on the garden. To determine where to place their flower-beds, participants charted the position of sunlight throughout the day. Based on that data, they positioned the seedlings. As new information became available, the teens continued to modify their design. They added a birdbath and pond to attract wildlife to the garden, and they made sure that garbage cans and compost bins were part of the plan, as well as picnic tables, chess tables, and paths wide enough for wheelchairs. All of these features were incorporated into the model the teens made of their garden.

After months of research and planning, the group was ready to move into the implementation phase. They decided to hold a Community Day, during which they would share their model with their parents and businesses in the community. They alerted the neighborhood to the event by making flyers and posting them. More than 50 parents, staff, volunteers, neighbors, and children came to the group’s community-wide event.

Volunteers from the neighborhood also got involved. Some helped clear out the garbage and sort out the recyclable materials. A professional carpenter worked with the kids to build a new fence. Other teens dug out the pond and planted seeds and seedlings with an expert gardener.

During the day, several teens walked around and video-interviewed attendees, asking them how they thought the garden would help the community. Below are samples of the responses they received.

After-school coordinator: “It’s gonna give us [a] sense of responsibility because we’re transforming something. We’re making something out of nothing. We’re gonna be extra proud because we did it.”

Parent volunteer: “It’s gonna turn out to be beautiful. It’s gonna help the children take care of the neighborhood by seeing beauty.”

Teen participant: “It will help the community by giving kids a place to come. Instead of being out in the street and doing things they shouldn’t be doing, they can come in here and just relax and enjoy themselves.”

Teen participant: “Because we need to [do] something for these kids right now. Things are not going good right now. Because you know how New York is filled with violence? So an event like this right here, it helps get away from all the violence.”

By the time the project ended, the REAL team had planted tomatoes, peppers, and flowers in the garden and had built an arbor for the vines. “I really like doing community projects—it gives me a sense of responsibility and gives me a good feeling about helping people in the community,” one participant remarked. A sense of ownership of the project from beginning to end combined with the opportunity to become involved in and contribute to the community resulted in a sense of accomplishment and deep commitment to the work.15

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