CLEVELAND - With the help of people living in the neighborhood, Pastor Gordon Martin of the Prince of Peace Outreach and Deliverance Ministries, organized a grassroots effort to convert an abandoned lot into a community park and garden. Their first step was to clean up the land.
"This was literally a debris dump," said Martin. "There were refrigerators, car parts, tires, or course, all kinds of trash."
Area residents began to clean up the lot. With the trash removed and the ground leveled out, the group decided they would create a garden. Using old tires, bathtubs, and other salvaged containers from the cleanup to hold planting soil, the residents created their garden. Anyone in the area could come and plant vegetables or flowers.
Martin said he got an offer to have the park professionally done by a landscape architect. The man had seen people cleaning the park when he was driving by. Martin was tempted, but decided against it.
"I thought that the people of the community would appreciate it more if they had more of a hand in it in putting it together. Having something that was state of the art would be wonderful, but at the same time I was thinking, 'how would it relate to the community and how would the community relate back to that?'"
Martin said people come out to the park daily. They bring plants and seedlings and start them in large planter boxes that have been built or in some of the old tires that were converted into planters.
Many of the tires have been brightly painted by the residents. One planter made up of three stacked tires was painted to look like a hamburger, another, like a snake. Martin said everyone pitches in to take care of the park. Some come to mow the grass, others trim the edges with power trimmers.
A large mural overlooks the park. It was designed by a local artist. It is of a large tree with branches stretching from a dark moonlight sky to a bright sun lit sky. The painting represents the community, through the growth of the plants in the garden, coming from darkness into light.
He painted only the outline of the mural and marked each part of the painting with numbers that represented the colors that should go there. Area residents would come, whenever they could, and match the color to the number. After the painting was complete, the artist came back and blended the colors to finish the work.
Martin feels that people building their own park, instead of having it built for them, is what gives the community a real sense of ownership.
"A lot of people are saying this is their park, that this is their neighborhood. They're very proud of the things they did. People in the community even painted the mural and they're very proud and protective and somewhat territorial over that."
Martin said his ministry isn't confined to his church. He told me the neighborhood is his ministry and he works in it to improve lives by improving where people live and how they feel about themselves.
"I aim to get people happy about where they live, to feel good when they're walking through their own neighborhood and I even notice how people are beginning to fix their own yards up as a result of this. It just makes you feel good when you have a nice place, a nice colorful, bright, happy place to come and sit and be peaceful and just be part of the community."
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