Current place of residence
New York, NY
What is your current occupation/work?
I am currently involved with the community outreach and engagement component of an environmental health research center at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. Last year I was an AmeriCorps member at the Institute for Family Health in NYC, where I worked with public schools to improve wellness programming (especially nutrition and physical education) for students. I was able to help 4 schools successfully apply for and start gardening projects in the South Bronx, which has a huge impact on the kids' engagement and ability to learn.
When and where did you work with Maurice?
Oberlin, OH - 2010-2014
For how long did you work with Maurice?
On and off mentorship for 2 years
What kind of work did you do when you worked with Maurice?
Maurice helped Hilary and I start a school garden project in KY, since we had little technical expertise at the time. He helped us identify crops to plant within the growing season and offered advice on how to effectively run an educational garden. We also stayed with him in NC and got to shadow him for a day!
In addition, I worked with Maurice as part of a community service trip through Oberlin College in 2010. He gave us a tour of urban gardens in Youngstown, OH, and led our group in a neighborhood gardening initiative.
What kind of growth/transformation happened for you (and/or for the people you served) because of your work with Maurice?
Maurice is a very inspirational teacher, mentor, and friend. I was amazed to learn through working with him how much gardening can transform communities. In Youngstown he showed us how the presence of a neighborhood garden had reduced drug trafficking and crime in the community, and in Raleigh we worked with formerly incarcerated individuals who were using gardening as a means to get back on their feet. He was definitely a huge inspiration and help in my own gardening projects during college and after graduation. I learned that gardens are not just a tool to improve food access, but can be a positive social force in many ways. During my later years in college, I led community service trips with Oberlin students and led them in gardening work at the school project in KY, similar to the role Maurice played when I first met him.
How has working with Maurice benefitted you and/or uplifted you?
See previous comment. Also, I really enjoyed meeting Maurice's family and witnessing their positive, loving dynamic. He is a wonderful role model! I really admire his persistence and ability to work in solidarity with community members. The physical nature of this work can be tiring, and it can also be difficult to feel like you are making a difference, especially when faced with resistance. However, I never saw him complain or have a negative attitude.
What would you say to someone who is interested in working with Maurice in the future?
It's an amazing opportunity and you are sure to learn a lot, not just about gardening but life in general. I would recommend it 100%!
Memories and Stories
When Hilary and I stayed with Maurice in NC, I remember how much life was being grown in and outside his house. One thing I remember clearly was how many old shoes had been filled with soil and were sustaining small plants. He was also building an outdoor garden, and I recall his wife cooking with the produce they grew. Instead of discarding old things that could be considered trash, they had been converted to pots for growing plants. This creative idea stuck in my mind and inspired me to do something similar on my own in the future.
A Few Words…
Maurice is able to be accepted in many communities, and this is a huge part of his success with community gardening work. I have felt the 'outsider effect' in many of my efforts to work with lower income or minority communities on gardening initiatives, and this is a very difficult barrier to overcome. Each time I worked with Maurice, I could tell that he has negotiated this very successfully in his work. People respect him and are eager to work with him. He does not come across as elitist or controlling when it comes to starting community gardening projects, and people of various backgrounds can identify with him. This is essential in having local communities take on projects and sustain them without Maurice's help in the future.
I miss Maurice and his family (and cats)! Hope our paths cross again.