Riverside Valley Community Garden was given a helping hand on Thursday, Sept. 25, when Bovis Lend Lease, in collaboration with Columbia University, held their 13th annual Community Day. More than 60 employees from Bovis Lend Lease—a global management construction company—and Columbia University converged on Riverside Drive and 135th Street just north of Columbia's proposed Manhattanville campus and worked in shifts to help beautify the garden by replacing damaged fencing, painting benches, changing mulch and patching up the asphalt jogging path. With their help, the garden can continue to flourish and provide free fruits and vegetables to the community.
"Collaborating on a joint Community Day effort with our client, Columbia University, at the Riverside Valley Community Garden is a natural fit. Both organizations are committed to giving back to the communities we work in, and I couldn't think of a better way to show it," said Ralph Esposito, senior vice president of Bovis Lend Lease. By providing construction knowledge to help build and improve gardens and other shared community facilities, Lend Lease's initiatives benefit socially and economically deprived groups, aged citizens, children, the homeless and people with disabilities.
Riverside Valley Community Garden is located in West Harlem at 138th Street and 12th Avenue and is responsible for maintaining a 15-block stretch of Riverside Park from 135th Street to 150th Street. The Community Garden was founded by long-time local resident Jenny Benítez and a group of neighbors 22 years ago. At that time, the neighborhood, particularly at 138th Street and 12th Avenue, was a shanty town for homeless drug addicts and dealers, as well as a garbage dump for used hypodermic needles, broken glass and abandoned cars. Mrs. Benítez and local residents set aside a plot of land at 138th Street and Riverside Drive to plant a wide variety of vegetables and fruit-bearing trees and distribute their harvest each year to people who pass through its gates. With their help, along with major support from the Riverside Park Fund, Riverside Park has been transformed into a series of lovely floral gardens throughout the 15-block stretch of park land.
Jenny Benítez, 75, and her husband, Victor, 78, have lived on Riverside Drive since 1964. They raised their four children in this West Harlem community and have worked within Community Board 9 for more than 50 years—Jenny for the Board of Education in District 6 and Victor as a Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus driver. They currently spend six hours a day, seven days a week working at the community garden.
"When Bovis approached us about their Community Day, the Community Garden immediately came to mind. The garden has been an incredible asset for the community, and it gives us great pleasure to help them with their cause. This partnership supports our commitment to community service and the enhancement of our neighborhood," said Joe Ienuso, executive vice president, Columbia University Facilities.
"Our children and families in this community need this garden, and Bovis and Columbia have given it a great makeover," Benítez said. "My words cannot fully express how I feel. Twenty-two years ago, there were needles, abandoned cars and loads of trash in this space. Today, we are all working together to help each other make this neighborhood someplace we can be proud of—getting new fences, painting the benches and preparing this garden for next year's harvest. None of this would have been possible without their help."
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