A Garden Grows Community

Posted on Wednesday, June 6, 2018 by Melissa Howison

Finding a tranquil outdoor reading space in the city can be as rare as coming across a book that enthralls you. Luckily, you can discover both at the Village Learning Place, and what better time to do so than at the start of another charming Baltimore summer?

The garden has been fundamental to the identity of the Village Learning Place (VLP) since it was first envisioned as a community hub 20 years ago. What began as an alluringly private green space—due to the surrounding brick wall—with flower beds and benches, has grown to include a fountain, a raised herb garden, paved walking paths, and wrought-iron tables and chairs.

The ongoing improvement in the garden is the result of tireless efforts by the garden committee, a dedicated group of neighborhood volunteers.

Phyllis Jaslow helped found the VLP and still participates on the 2nd Wednesdays Program Committee and Garden Committee. Phyllis said of her passion for the garden: “It is a peaceful and beautiful oasis separate from the often-hectic pace of our day, a place where we can just relax and enjoy the quiet and lovely space within the garden walls or gather with friends in a treasured ambiance.”

Patricia Owens, another garden committee volunteer, is equally enthusiastic despite having had to scale back her involvement recently. She explained “I continue to volunteer a bit on all the VLP garden days, even though I will soon be 90 and don’t have the energy I used to.”

Everyone on the Garden Committee and the VLP staff was therefore honored and excited when the Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP) announced that the Village Learning Place Community Garden Project was awarded a 2018 HCPI Community Spruce-Up Grant.

The HCPI Community Spruce-Up Grant Program strengthening neighborhoods by providing resources for mid- to large-scale leveraged grants led by residents, community groups, and organizations in order to develop neighborhood-driven, highly visible quality of life capital improvement projects. “This program promotes community engagement, community building, and builds leadership capacity through a public and accessible capital improvement project,” according to CBP Community Projects Manager Aaron Kaufman.

Aaron said a key component of the VLP’s winning project was its estimated ability to create enriching experiences for the many different people who visit the garden, from students in the LINK Summer program to attendees of the 2nd Wednesdays adult cultural program, to individuals who enjoy the public green space or rent it for private events.

“The fact that you guys do programming with everybody from toddlers to seniors [and] the advantage of programming within the garden space from a public education standpoint, and from a community-building standpoint; all of those things were attractive,” Aaron said.

The Spruce-Up Grant, now in its fifth year, is the product of a collaboration between the CBP, Johns Hopkins University, and the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. This year alone, $160,000 in funding was granted to 10 community projects.

The Village Learning Place received $10,000, which will go toward updating the fountain, installing signage so visitors can learn more about the garden, assembling a retractable shade structure above the patio, and repairing pavers on the raised herb bed.

“We are so excited to receive a Spruce-Up Grant,” VLP Executive Director Liesje Gantert said. “This funding will allow the VLP to invest in the beautification of the garden space; just one of the many capital improvements that will take place in the library in coming years.”

Liesje added: “Whether it is outside in the garden or within the library walls, I enjoy the unique ability of the VLP to grow community. Our neighborhood is diverse, and I am always amazed at how this space brings everyone together. Sometimes I think it is magical! Then, I realize it is because of the work of our founders, the countless volunteers, staff, and patrons who all make the VLP possible (not magic at all. Sorry, J.K. Rowling!).”

Inside the VLP, the library stacks recently underwent their own transformation with the addition of several new best-selling books. In the adult section, readers can check out Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, a tale of two lovers who, separated by fifteen years and the Atlantic Ocean, reunite in their homeland of Nigeria and share lessons they learned about race, identity, home, and love during their time apart. Also new in the adult section:

  • A Separation by Katie Kitamora
  • Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free by Hector Tobar
  • Doughnut Economics by Katie Raworth
  • Home by Harlan Coban
  • The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel

In the young adult section, there is an enchanting novel that follows a harmonica as it travels around the world, belonging to one child and then the next, depicting how the small instrument touches the lives of each young musician. Echo, by Pam Munoz Ryan, is now available in our collection. Also new in the young adult section:

  • Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Bandette Volume 1 by Paul Tobin
  • Electric Arches by Eve Ewing
  • Miles Morales Spiderman by Jason Reynolds
  • Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

In the children’s section, there is the fantastical story about a girl who longs for a more exciting pet than her hamster, only to learn first-hand that taking care of magical beasts such as unicorns and dragons is an immense responsibility. If I Had a Gryphon by Vikki VanSickle is now available at the VLP. Also new in the children’s section:

  • A Different Pond by Bao Phi and Thi Bui
  • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
  • Finding the Music by Jennifer Torres (printed in English and Spanish)
  • Josephine by Patricia Hruby Powell
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

There are many reasons to visit the VLP this summer. The forthcoming garden renovation and recent additions to the library stacks make tackling that summer reading list against a beautiful garden backdrop a hard reason to beat. Stop by for a visit this summer!