I have lived in Kensington for the majority of my life and can confirm that my community is rich, dynamic, and filled with resilient people who are dedicated to reversing the negative stigmas attached to our neighborhood. But while I was growing up, outsiders gave me funny looks — sometimes even displaying shock or horror — when I told them where I was from.
“It’s not as bad as you think,” I’d say.
Now, I feel that my language could have been different. I should have defended Kensington more and spoken about the vibrant people in my community — like my family and friends.
When strangers come to Kensington, they may not see the doñas spraying their stoops in the summer to keep their homes clean, or the beautiful flowers they have growing in their front lawns or backyards — bursts of colors that pop up every so often against concrete. They may not realize all the efforts of local residents who clean vacant lots for small community gardens or for their chickens to roam around.
I started working with Impact Services in 2018, and much of my current work focuses on greening efforts and beautification in the neighborhood. I value beautification, which is the process of improving a place’s appearance because we deserve to live in a community where things like pop-up gardens, new trees, and residents who clean up their own lots and sidewalks, come first in conversations, and not negative stigmas. I want the physical exterior of our community to reflect the hopes of those who have lived here for generations.
At Impact, we collaborate with groups like Iglesia del Barrio, Hart Farms, and residents like Ana Santiago, who wants to revitalize her deceased husband’s community garden near Hope Park. We plan to help her restore the garden by first fixing the fence to stop people from sneaking in, and then cleaning up the weeds from the space, which currently looks like an eyesore.
With Iglesia del Barrio, we cleaned and converted two vacant lots on Kip & Cambria Streets into a children’s community garden named Barrio Kids Garden. This spring will be the garden’s first season, and we are really excited to incorporate gardening into Pastor Cookie Sanchez’s after-school program curriculum at the Barrio Kids Garden outside of Iglesia Del Barrio church. With the help of Jessica Shoffner from Hart Lane, we planted lots of beautiful flowers, herbs, and greens.
Perhaps the most rewarding of all these collaborations was seeing how excited the kids were about getting their hands into the dirt to plant their garlic bulbs.
“This is therapeutic,” one of the girls told me.
I couldn’t agree more.
The fact that an 11-year-old could recognize that gardening is therapeutic in just a few short hours of planting makes me wonder what could happen after a few years of us converting our neighborhood’s vacant lots into gardens. There is something truly calming about being in nature, and research supports its therapeutic effects, among other positive ones. Studies show that being around green areas can reduce levels of acute stress, decrease feelings of depression increase physical activity, and reduce crime.
These greening projects, whether they involve creating a community garden or cleaning and fencing a vacant lot, offer more than just beautification. They are necessary when we consider the amount of trauma that underlies the neighborhood. Beautifying our neighborhood ensures that we can feel safe and comfortable walking outside, and gain a sense of peace and calm that can sometimes be difficult to find.
Having the ability to walk outside your doors and see trees, flowers, or small parks symbolizes our care for the community. It sends the message that we take ownership of it and want to improve it so that the next generation can enjoy it, too.
My hope is that others get more involved, whether through cleanups, taking on their own projects, or planting during the growing seasons at established gardens in the neighborhood. I want to see people come together and enjoy not just being in each other’s company, but also have the chance to enjoy their community outside.
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Editor: Claire Wolters / Story Designer: Jillian Bauer-Reese / Translator: Kristine Aponte