In 2008, Clif Bar & Company launched In Good Company, an alliance of values-driven businesses supporting community solutions through week-long, hands-on projects focused on food, housing, and environmental issues. Seventh Generation was a key partner along with EILEEN FISHER, Timberland, Annie's Home Grown and Numi Organic Teas. Each year since then, Seventh Generation has chosen two company volunteers to spend a week as part of the force for change.
Helen Rock, Seventh Generation Sales Coordinator was one of those volunteers and shares her experiences here.
This year, I was fortunate to be chosen as one of Seventh Generation's In Good Company volunteers. In September, I spent a week in the South Bronx improving and transforming community arts buildings to support the work of The Point, a non-profit Community Development Corporation dedicated to youth development and the cultural and economic revitalization of the Hunts Point section of South Bronx. Though more than 50 percent of children under 18 live below the poverty level in Hunts Point (the national average is 17.6 percent), this is a colorful place with beautiful, crazy graffiti and long-stretches of corrugated steel fencing with painted community murals. The neighborhood hosts three parks, the largest being Barreto Park with bench-lined pathways and a grassy amphitheater that overlooks the East River.
Our week started with a tour around Hunts Point and walking around the neighborhood surrounding The Point, I noticed that there were no corner stores or retail outlets, and strangest of all, there were no pedestrians. The absence of people surprised me and when I asked why, I was told the roads are not safe to cross.
"Ah, right!" I thought, as I noticed there were no pedestrian crossing lights anywhere. That's because this neighborhood is made for trucks! It is home to the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center, the largest food distribution center in the world. Imagine this: 15,000 trucks a day driving down your street. Believe me, the rumble and roar of huge tractor trailers passing us made conversation impossible. And though these trucks distribute more than $2 billion dollar's worth of food to the northeast corridor of the country, that food is not available in Hunts Point. It's bizarre and it's why folks at The Point are dedicated to creating safe, inviting spaces; offer enriching educational opportunities for youth and empower teen activists to fight for social justice.
The next day, we jumped into construction mode and we didn't stop pounding nails, grinding steel and painting walls until six days later. There were 18 of us from 11 different companies working on three different projects. OK, I'll admit, we had some fantastic meals and even went out salsa dancing one night, but the week was really about the work.
We fixed up a brick building that's used as an artists' studio, building a new floor, pataching and painting crumbling brick walls, installing cabinets and counters and adding new lighting. The leaky roof was repaired, too, so equipment and supplies can be kept inside without getting ruined every time it rains.
A shipping container was transformed into an art gallery - I was ready to move in when we'd finished. The new floor, smooth walls, track lighting and painted trim looked ideal for a weekend get away! And on November 2, the first art show opened.
A new concession stand, complete with Dutch doors, display shelves and chalkboards for menus and messages was anything but ordinary. We were fortunate enough to work alongside the community partners from The Point - Kellie, Executive Director; Maria, Founder; Mike, Board Chair; Alejandra, Artist, Activist, Mother and Teacher. The leaders of our construction projects were pretty special too. Dov, Matt and Semar were patient and skilled teachers who empowered each of us to do the work. They were full of fun facts to keep us engaged and a bit bewildered throughout our work days. My week included a lot of firsts with power tools! More than anything, I was amazed at the way The South Bronx team worked - focused, motivated, committed and encouraging. The friendly banter gave way to fits of laughter as the week progressed and by the end, it was hard to leave the friends I'd made. I was humbled by the talent and dedication all around me.
I remain thankful for my time with In Good Company and I have made a vow to myself to be a more cheerful volunteer, to get out of my comfort zone by learning how to use new tools when I'm on a project, and to listen more. I am also thankful that I work for a company and in a community that believes we can all make a difference.