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Beyond Seeds and Shovels, UT Students Help Community Grow

Published: April 22, 2011
A student paints a flower pot during one of the recent President's Leadership Fellows' fundraisers for the Tampa Heights Community Garden.
A student paints a flower pot during one of the recent President's Leadership Fellows' fundraisers for the Tampa Heights Community Garden.
It was clear from the start that the community garden The University of Tampa students were getting involved with was going to be about more than seeds and shovels.

Now a year into the partnership, it is even clearer that the Tampa Heights project is more about intergenerational cooperation, team building and creating a sense of community.

"Even though there are struggles, it is great to put that aside to get something accomplished," said John Jones '12. "We're really proud of what we've been able to do. It's exceptional."

Jones is a President’s Leadership Fellow , a four-year University scholarship program that accepts 25 freshmen each year and refines their ability to lead in a global world.

Jones, a sport management major, is one of nine fellows in his cohort who are working on a community change project required of all fellows in their third year. The idea of the community change project is to facilitate a sustainable project that develops students’ leadership skills. Part of being a good leader means being a responsibly engaged citizen.

Colleen Itani '12, an international and cultural studies major, attended her first Tampa City Council meeting in early April. The land where the proposed garden will be is shared by the Florida Department of Transportation and the City of Tampa. Their agreement needs to be amended for the garden project to proceed. Though she was nervous, Itani stood at the council’s podium and addressed the members, speaking on behalf of the project.

“I can’t watch,” said Itani, president of STAND and Gateways mentor. “I have to be completely immersed.”

Fellows have designed a website, logo and brochure and have helped out with fundraising and promotions.

“They’ve been helping us implement the project in a great way,” said Carrol Josephs-Marshall of the Tampa Heights Stewardship Team, a division of the Tampa Heights Civic Association which is overseeing the implementation of an overall Neighborhood Plan adopted in the late 1990s.

Within the last two years, the association has acquired community center and greenway spaces where a garden will be planted. Community gardens have been shown to act as a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, providing nutritious food, reducing crime and preserving green space. Members of the Tampa Heights community, including Metropolitan Ministries, will have access to plots to grow their own vegetables with the guidance of Tampa Garden Club members who number more than 400.

“We want to bring it back to a vibrant area,” said Josephs-Marshall. “The UT students have been awesome, helping with the marketing plan, branding, with so many different facets.”

Aside from their work with the garden, UT fellows have spent many Saturdays with members of the Tampa Heights community, renovating what will become the community center.

“From the aspect of tomorrow’s leaders, the students are using this project as a model for community action,” said Kitty Wallace of the Tampa Garden Club. “We just love it that they are on board, bringing their perspective to the table.”

One of the biggest impacts they have is their dedication to seeing the project through to the end, said Lena Young, board member of the Tampa Heights Civic Association.

“At the end of the semester, the students don’t go away,” Young said. “That for me is one of the big, big benefits. We know the whole plan will continue until completed. We’re very impressed with the caliber of students and very satisfied with the work they’ve done.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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