AWESOME PROJECT: A garden classroom and a space for possibility in Cleveland

Dawn Glasco, a Community Engagement Coordinator who works with children, has lived on East 76th street, Cleveland, for the past 10 years. And right outside her window, across the street from her home, all those years, had sat a large vacant lot — run down, overgrown with tall grass that the city wasn’t mowing, and littered with trash. A couple of years ago, Glasco started to feel ready to do something about it, summoned her courage, and began going door to door, asking neighbors if they’d join a group effort to beautify the street and turn the lot into an outdoor classroom. She also called the city, asked them to come and mow, and got permission to improve the lot. Glasco’s neighbors were receptive, and so was the city. For her, a door had opened.

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“That’s the way that things have been, so it’s like ‘what’s gonna change now?’ It was depressing to me,” says Glasco of the way the empty lot had been for so long. “But I had the belief in myself and my ability to bring change. My believe that I could do something – that drove me. I wanted to bring a sense of serenity, peace, and beauty. I wanted to somehow touch the hearts and minds of people, and ask them to wake up and consider what it is to be alive.”

Today, flower beds lie on the lot, along with a mini free library hutch and other improvements. Space has been cleared to make way for benches (you can donate here to help with supplies and construction), which Glasco hopes will begin to transform the space into an outdoor classroom and support group venue.

“Producing something,” she says, “seeing people use their talents. Using my talents. Connecting with people. Coming up with an idea, and then implementing it. Community, sharing. Bonding with people. That makes me feel alive.” And she’s determined to give it to those around her, from the children on up.

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Tapping in to local talent

It won’t be difficult to fill the class roster with interesting courses, once it’s set up. Turns out, Glasco’s neighbors have lots of secret talents to share. One neighbor loves mathematics, and might teach that. Another is a carpenter and potter. “I also see some support groups happening,” says Glasco. “Some stuff around trauma. Just giving people the opportunity to connect, heart to heart. I want people to know their potential as human beings. In some areas, we’ve kind of lost that. We’re disconnected from our own self, and from other people.”

Some of these groups Glasco might lead herself; she’s almost done training to be a Gestalt practitioner, and also wrapping up a masters at Cleveland State, in Psychology and Diversity Management.

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Remember Me tree

The centerpiece of the lot on East 76th Street is a beautiful tree. It’s where friends and family recently gathered after the funeral of a young resident of 76th street, who had been killed. With her family, Glasco has laid mulch and planted hasta plants around the tree, as a sort of tribute to that young resident, and to the whole neighborhood. “That area could be a gathering place,” says Glasco, “where we honor one another, those who are here, those who used to live here and those who have passed away.”

When she herself thinks of the tree, she thinks of her mother. “Twenty years ago, my mother had an aneurism and passed away,” she explains. “September 14, I had an aneurism, but if you look at me, you would never be able to tell. And I’ve never visited my mother’s gravesite, because in visiting her gravesite, it meant that I accepted that she was dead. So I just never could deal with that. But looking at the Remember Me tree, it represents life, you know?”

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Brave mom, proud son

Glasco’s son is enormously proud of her for mobilizing the neighborhood to beautify the outdoor classroom lot. “He likes any kind of forward progress,” she says, “and bravery. Anytime somebody does something outside of the norm, he likes it. And he always told me, ‘whenever you’re gonna do it, let me know. I’ll help however you need me to.’ I didn’t have to do anything. Nobody told me to do it. We live in a world of systems. Systems and doors. And those doors are often just shut. You have to ask, you have to knock, you have to seek. I didn’t have any cheerleaders. Nobody saying that this was guaranteed to be a success. But I had faith.”

“It took a lot of courage to break away from the norm,” she continues, “which was to do nothing. To blame. To say that somebody else should do it. Somebody else is responsible for it. So to make a firm decision to move forward and take action on something that I had not seen done – nobody hired me to do it, and I wasn’t gonna get a picture in the paper for it – I had to hold my frame of mind in a state of belief, and not turn around. This is huge! You’re asking the city to do something. You’re asking authority figures. You’re asking people you don’t know yet. I had to be brave enough to ring doorbells and say ‘hello’.”

It takes enormous courage to take action like this, but at the same time, Glasco notes, it’s free. “My hope is that it will give off good energy, and that that energy will spread into people’s hearts and minds, and help us consider how we utilize time. How we spend time. I hope it will inspire people to spend time to build, to create, to inspire, to love, to give. To give, basically. That’s what you’re doing when you’re spending time – you’re giving. Sometimes it doesn’t cost us a dime.”

She never doubted that her neighbors would step up. “I think naturally, human beings are good people,” insists Glasco. “Some of us go down the wrong path, but I look for the good in people, and I expect it to show up. I believe that it will show up. There was no way that I was the only one who cared. I think that people just didn’t know where to start.”

Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.

Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.