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Making Cincinnati Life Better

Volunteers improve communities in Buckeye State

LaDonna Pope at the Walnut Hills community garden in Ohio, sponsored by AARP.

LaDonna Pope and other AARP volunteers help tend the Walnut Hills Community Garden. ‘It is a ray of sunshine,’ she said of the Cincinnati neighborhood’s green oasis. — Photo by: Tom Smith

It's a Saturday morning, and some 20 people fan out beneath a crystal blue sky to spruce up a community garden in Cincinnati's urban Walnut Hills neighborhood. The volunteers gravitate to work that suits them. Some uproot weeds, others clear brush from the fence, and a small group erects a tool shed.

"This is just such a blessing," said LaDonna Pope, who set all of this in motion by responding to an AARP Ohio survey seeking worthy projects.

See also: Good things you can do yourself.

The Walnut Hills Community Garden, a neighborhood fixture for 23 years, is one of a handful of projects in Ohio to win assistance from AARP as part of a national initiative to support projects that can have a lasting impact in a community. AARP members, community residents and leaders suggest the ideas; AARP works with community organizations to bring the ideas to reality.

Sharing the garden's bounty

Pope, 53, has been gardening here since 2004 but said she hardly eats any of what she grows. In addition to sharing with family and friends, Pope takes produce to residents in a nearby senior center.

So does William Hawkins, 77, a retired city worker and the garden coordinator. "We planted some extra vegetables this year to make sure they get a few more," said Hawkins, who also takes crops to a YMCA and is likely to share with anyone who asks.

"This is community at its best," said Kevin Craiglow, AARP Ohio associate director for community outreach who is coordinating the project initiative in Ohio.

One goal of the program is to encourage people to get involved in their communities, and some who turned out for the garden work were volunteering through AARP for the first time.

"I used to do a lot of volunteer work, and we're trying to get back into it," said Carl Iseman, 61, who lives about a mile away and volunteered at the garden with his wife, Diane, 60. "It's AARP, and it's something for our community. We thought, 'Gee, that's a double-whammy,' " he said.

Iseman is among those working on the shed, a key piece of the project because it's a lasting improvement and will allow the gardeners to safely store equipment.

Next: Intergenerational gardening. >>

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