How this Newark landscaping and cleanup program is also helping rebuild lives
by Vince Baglivo/January 13, 2017 Featured image by Vince Baglivo
Winter officially began on December 21st, and despite a few mild days, cold temperatures and frozen precipitation have already been felt in the Brick City. For Newark residents and business owners looking for help this season with snow removal services, or year-round assistance with everything from yard clean-ups to building sidewalks and retaining walls, there’s a new option in town.
Greater Newark Conservancy’s City Bloom Landscaping offers these services and more, while providing work and life skills to last a lifetime for city residents hungry for a second chance.
As the Operations Manager of City Bloom Landscaping, Tom Brill is sharing his years of experience in support of the program launched in 2015 with start-up capital provided by the Houston Family Foundation and a Conservancy board member. That funding helped with the purchase of tools and equipment, and professional staff for training and support for individuals through the New Jersey Re-entry Corporation (NJRC).
Brill was just settling into retirement after a decades-long career managing his Madison-based company when he met Robin Dougherty, the Conservancy’s Executive Director. Now, he’s traded days supervising large corporate projects to help newcomers, including at-risk and formally incarcerated individuals, learn skills to start careers of their own.
Image: Vince Baglivo
“When these men and women start with us, most have no experience in construction or landscaping, or for managing their lives now that they have rejoined their communities,” said Brill. “They leave knowing not only the tools needed to do a job the right way, but also how to be self-starters who don’t need supervision, so they can build businesses of their own or work for other companies.”
By the summer of 2015, City Bloom Landscaping had contracts with clients like the Urban League, who hired the team to install landscaping along a block of Newark’s Littleton Avenue as part of a neighborhood revitalization project. A contract with the Branch Brook Park Alliance to provide landscaping services has led to bigger opportunities based on the team’s performance.
City Bloom Landscaping also signed a landscape maintenance contract with the Springfield Avenue Market Place, the home of the Conservancy’s neighbor, ShopRite of Newark.
Other projects range from smaller contracts for yard clean-ups for private residences to larger projects like the installation of a drainage system in a Peace Garden located in a courtyard at West Side High School, funded by the MCJ/Amelior Foundation, along with the planting and maintenance of perennials at the school’s entrance.
City Bloom Landscaping is also working on contracts with the City of Newark and the Newark Community Economic Development Corporation (NCEDC).
Keith Hamilton, Newark’s Manager of City-Owned Properties, met Brill through a land-care project at Rutgers University addressing properties in need throughout the city. He recognized another opportunity for the City Bloom Landscaping team in the South Ward.
Several blocks on Clinton Avenue near Peshine Avenue had sat empty for decades before being transformed by the City with murals and a performance stage. Hamilton believed the skills and services of City Bloom Landscaping could help enhance the site further, starting with building new sidewalks.
Those sidewalks, now an urban canvas for artistic expression, would take the public space to a new level, Hamilton thought, in support of Baraka’s vision to revitalize the Clinton Avenue corridor as a center for arts, culture and business.
After successfully completing the sidewalk project, City Bloom Landscaping was contracted to do other work on the site, including landscaping and building retaining walls. “We started with the sidewalks, and the crew showed what they can do, so we found other ways for them to contribute,” Hamilton noted.
“I love the fact that through the beneficial relationship between the City of Newark and the Conservancy and the programs they provide, these Newark residents are not only contributing valuable services benefitting the city and all of its stakeholders, but also transforming their lives.”
Newark resident Ronnie Lytle started with the Conservancy’s Clean and Green Program three and a half years ago. Since 2009, more than 800 individuals have received help getting their lives back on track through the program for at-risk youth and adults making the transition from unemployment or incarceration, to living in a community.
Participants in the Clean and Green Program are encouraged and supported to seek permanent, full-time employment, while receiving mentoring in positive workplace behaviors and job training in the fields of horticulture and landscaping. At the same time, Clean and Green participants are helping to beautify Newark’s vacant, debris-strewn lots by converting them into new neighborhood pocket parks, community gardens, and urban farms.
Today, Lytle serves as a supervisor for City Bloom Landscaping, assisting Brill and overseeing crews working on projects throughout the city. He mentions an ongoing project in Weequahic Park with pride, noting that the men and women he works with share in that positive feeling.
“It feels good to know that we are playing a part in and contributing to the revitalization of our city, working block-by-block to clean up and fix up Newark’s streetscape through the skills we have learned.”
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