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Rogers Park Garden Group

By Karin Sommer

Summer, 2008

Principle: You can't do it alone

Group working on a garden

During the winter of 2007, Karen McCarthy, a master gardener with a passion for plants and people, hatched an idea. Her neighborhood, Rogers Park, had an annual garden walk, but no garden club and no public gardens outside of a few planted street corners. Wanting to do something about this lack of public garden space, and eager to bring neighbors together, Karen reached out to two of her neighbors: Pam Van Giessen, whom she met through work, and Alison Zehr, a fellow dog-walker.

Karen, Pam, and Alison all cared passionately about their neighborhood and bringing neighbors together. Though each had differing commitments to gardening, their discussions about creating public gardens in Rogers Park led them to a pleasant surprise: a garden group would not only help to create public garden space, it would provide a forum through which the different incomes and cultures in the neighborhood could mix and mingle.

The three neighbors first step was to define a vision and solicit others to join their group. Karen, Pam, and Alison reached out to neighbors and friends, and found three people who shared their vision. Carol Goldman, a long-time community advocate for the elderly and neighbor of Pam's, Susan Murray, a friend of Alison's and a master gardener, and Joey Sylvester, a neighbor of Karen's, joined Karen, Pam, and Alison to form the Rogers Park Garden Group.

The Rogers Park Garden Group (RPGG) was founded on the belief in the power of gardens to build communities through beauty, camaraderie, and involvement, and had a mission to promote gardening in the community through education and by assisting in the growth and development of green space.

The RPGG reached out to community members through local blogs, newspapers, businesses, and flyers. The first meeting, in April 2007, attracted 40 people. By the end of 2007, the RPGG had over 140 members and had embarked upon a full range of public programming, including a monthly lecture series, the building of an award-winning garden in Loyola Park, the distribution of 800 spring bulbs for parkway plantings, and a public garden. The group also hosted a garden walk and sidewalk sale, and raised $2,500 for 2008 community gardening efforts. A website and e-newsletter soon followed.

In its second year, the RPGG recognizes it is a new group whose success depends on the efforts of the organizing committee. With each passing month, more people get involved and take on more responsibilities.