Community Building – An Urgent Need

I teared up this morning as I walked around the Tigermountain Foundation‘s Garden of Tomorrow in south Phoenix and realized that what was happening here: real community building across different ethnicities, different generations, and different socio-economic classes, was both rare and urgently needed.  Everyone had come to the garden that morning with a different background and a different reason for making this place special.  The warmth and positive energy that we created filled the city block, making a hospitable space for both plants and people to prosper.

Community Garden Sign

A place for health

At 8:30 am on a beautiful, if a bit chilly Saturday morning, about 75 volunteers gathered around to hear Darren Chapman tell us the stories of the Garden of Tomorrow where we would be serving this morning.  Chapman is a dynamic storyteller, with a great sense of humor, charismatic presence, and ability to connect at a personal level with each member of his audience.

Wheelbarrow full of yams

Yams that I helped harvest

He started with stories of health, how working in the garden and increasing awareness about vegetables and healthy eating had helped several of the volunteers present lose weight and feel great.  One man had weighed over 400 pounds and was using wheelchair because his legs could not support his weight.  We watched as he walked under his own power across the garden at a much more reasonable 220 pounds.

Seniors getting food at the Community Garden

Residents from next door joining us for lunch

The garden is located next to a federal housing complex for senior citizens.  The seniors take care of the garden during the week and then join the volunteers on Saturday to help out and enjoy a large nutritious lunch.  Chapman emphasized the importance of being multi-generational.

A place for healing

For several of the volunteers present that morning, this project carried special meaning.  Dan Marco, pictured right, lost his son, Zachary (21), a month ago when he was gunned down in Phoenix near ASU where he was a student.  There are two African-American young men (17 & 20) currently suspected in his death.  Dan Marco and his two daughters (pictured below) are came out to south Phoenix seeking answers about how this violence is generated, and how he can help prevent any more tragedies in this community. 

When Dan Marco spoke to the group at lunch, he said that speaking to participants in the garden this morning gave him a new perspective.  He said that as a criminal defense lawyer, he has defended gang members, young men in similar circumstances to the ones who are probably responsible for his son’s death.  He admitted that he didn’t give much thought to where they came from or where they were going to or the larger system that created the circumstances.  Marco added that he was not going to go behind the walls of his gated community anymore, he wants to understand and he wants to live out his son’s legacy by advocating for peace and for communities in which youth are supported in making good choices.  Marco is forming a foundation in his son’s name: The Zachary Marco Foundation.

Staffer of Tigermountain Foundation who spent 30 years in jail and is now a supervisor

I also enjoyed the new experience of having a man who had spent much of his life behind bars, give me instructions on how to handle the compost.  He seemed kind, patient, and dedicated to his work.  I wondered how he could have come through the criminal justice system and ended up here, giving back and contributing to his community.

A place for hospitality

Live music

We had a DJ to accompany the garden work and then a live band during lunch

Volunteering is always more fun with good music!  We were treated to a great DJ with an excellent sound system, and then got a real treat around lunch time with some live music which we found out later was actually paid for by the Tigermountain Foundation.

One of the highlights after digging in the hard soil for a couple of hours was being treated to an absolute feast: BBQ chicken, collared greens, soup, corn bread, and more!  The act of volunteering together and eating together is a wonderful recipe for community building.

Volunteer Project Rating: Must go!

Volunteer at the Tigermountain Foundation Garden for Tomorrow every Saturday, 8:30 am – noon, 1823 E Broadway Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85040

Project Contact: Darren Chapman, dchapman836 (at)


One response to “Community Building – An Urgent Need

  1. Pingback: Coming Back to the Garden of Tomorrow | Service Driven

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