At the Jean Carter-Hill Community Garden in Englewood, banks of flower beds curve around an open green space and stone paths lead to a tree-shaded corner with two small circles of wood benches
The community-school garden at Nicholson School, 6006 S. Peoria, is a site for learning and community service for 8th grade students of math and science teacher Belinda Childrey. Students learn about growing and gain a sense of accomplishment and ownership, Childrey said.
“They work hard on the garden,” she said, and they come back to visit it years after graduation. “It’s part of them.”
Students named the garden for Hill is 2004 when she retired as school-community representative at Nicholson after 25 years in Englewood Schools. Hill and Imagine Englewood If…, the group she co-founded with another Nicholson teacher in 1997, pulled together partners for the garden ranging from the school and the neighboring New Canaan Land MB Church to the Chicago Botanical Garden and the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs.
Hill turned to the schoolyard as a community garden site after lead levels were too high at a nearby vacant lot and a churchyard. Lead levels are still too high at the school to grow vegetables, but not to work in the soil.
With Englewood leading the city in lead contamination levels, it’s one of the issues that Imagine Englewood If… has taken up. “People are growing gardens and planting vegetables and don’t realize there’s lead in the soil,” Hill said.
The lead problem is compounded because community and home gardens are a possible response to another concern of the group — the lack of availability of healthy food in Englewood.
“We took the kids to the neighborhood stores looking for vegetables,” Hill said. “We told them to write down what they saw.
“All chips and candy. Way in back there might be a bruised banana or a potato.”
Then they took the children to a South Loop supermarket. “Their eyes got so big,” Hill said. “They told us, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this.’”
Imagine Englewood If… holds town meetings on issues of concern as well as an annual volunteer recognition ceremony.
At Nicholson’s graduation on June 12 (10 a.m. at New Canaan Church, 5957 S. Peoria), Childrey will be giving out the Jean Carter-Hill Award for community service. “It’s for children who go above and beyond,” said Childrey. “That’s what Jean does all the time. She’s always working for the community and for the children.”
Afterwards students take graduation pictures in the garden, Childrey said.
The Jean Carter-Hill Community Garden will hold community volunteer days starting at 1 p.m. on June 13 and 27, July 11 and 25, and August 8 and 22.