to donate services like on-site supervision, clerical record keeping, and bill paying. The project grew substantially last year with the help of a $194,000 grant from the James L. Knight Foundation. That money pays about 46 part-time people to maintain the gardens during the week and between semesters when the students are not available to work.
“We felt it was important to hire people from the community and train them for work,” says Dunn. “Many of the people we employ have prison records or past drug addiction problems. It’s important that these folks have a paycheck coming in because that helps them stay out of trouble.”
The grant money Dunn receives can only be used to pay community worker salaries, so costs like the purchase of lawn mowers, weed whackers, gasoline, trash bags, fertilizers, and rented toilet facilities are all paid by Dunn. He estimates such costs totaled $10,000 over the last two years. A $52,000 grant that he hopes to receive from the city of Miami to pay operating costs for the project will relieve a great deal of the personal financial burden he has shouldered.
While Dunn’s out-of-pocket costs have risen, he says the rewards of helping people in the community far outweigh the personal expenses. “When I look at the beauty of the gardens, and when I remember the dirty, dank, littered, drug-infested place of the past, it’s all worth it.”
Dunn advises anyone starting a community project to:
ooSeek resources from surrounding institutions. Dunn’s community garden project has been successful in gaining grants from FIU, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the Florida Department of Agriculture as well as donations like plants, labor, and other services from local businesses. “Look at the public and private sector organizations that surround the community and make sure that the project is something they will be willing to support,” says Dunn.
ooEmploy people from the community. “When we advertised for jobs, we were flooded with people from the community looking for work,” Dunn says. “When people in the community get involved in the project, they’ll want to make it work.”
ooInvolve people from other communities. For the Overtown project, the volunteers provide more than free labor. Most are Hispanic and white college students who gain a better understanding of Overtown, and Overtown residents get a better understanding of them. “After spending several weekends there, my students realize that Overtown residents are no different from any other people they’ve met,” says Dunn. “They have the same aspirations, hopes, and dreams.”