Westchester Rotary starts Makeover Project to help Emerson Avenue Community Garden thrive

The Rotary Club of Westchester is known for its commitment to the community through their service projects and support of local nonprofits, but perhaps nothing exemplifies this commitment more than the group’s signature event, the bi-annual “extreme” Makeover Project. Over the years, the Rotary Club has remodeled four homes, the Westchester Senior Center, Safe Place for Youth and the Westchester Townhouse. Now, the Emerson Avenue Community Garden (EACG) is the lucky recipient of an extensive revamp courtesy of the 60-member strong club. With the help of Rotary volunteers and community partners, improvements to the approximately one-acre space will include improving accessibility by using decomposed granite instead of mulch for pathways. Other projects planned include improving the drainage and irrigation systems and some general beautification efforts to help create a more park-like atmosphere that the whole neighborhood can enjoy.

The Makeover Project’s manager, Warren Bobrow explains, “We want to bring attention to the garden and shine a good, bright light on it!”

Fortunately, since the project is entirely outdoors, the timeline for work can still proceed as planned—with proper safeguards in place. After months of planning and working with EACG board members, Rotarians had their first volunteer day in the garden in October, which involved a lot of pre-work for the makeover including heavy lifting, landscaping and removing the garden’s cement seating area. Once additional permits from LAUSD come in, the project is expected to be in full swing around March or April of 2021.

Rotarians work in the Emerson Avenue Community Garden.

When the Westchester Rotary was approached by the EACG as a potential recipient of this project, the club’s president, Tom Johnstone, says the decision was an easy one. Thanks to the Westchester Arts and Music (WAM) Block Party, a popular community event that raises money for the garden, the Rotary Club was already aware of the amazing work that goes on there to “build a garden and grow a community.”

Since 2011, the Emerson Avenue Community Garden has been a beacon of neighborhood spirit. With 38 well-cared for plots, as well as a student garden managed by WISH Charter School, the EACG is now a thriving, bountiful green space in the center of Westchester. Pre-COVID, the EACG regularly hosted events from pancake breakfasts and outdoor movie nights to plant workshops and story time sessions for kids. According to board member Michael Calzada, the nonprofit’s goal is to continue to be a neighborhood hub that not only has a sustainable, organic garden area, but also has educational and community uses as well.

“We are proud to be in a position to operate a community garden, fulfilling sustainable objectives and providing healthy choices in a park-like setting for the entire community to enjoy,” said Calzada.

The Rotary Club of Westchester was founded in 1950, and thanks to their service projects and active, engaged members, the group was recently awarded the Large Rotary Club of Excellence honor for 2019-2020 for their district. For Rotary volunteers, one of the cornerstones of being a member of the club is the notion of “Service Above Self,” meaning Rotarians are always ready to volunteer and help strengthen their community. The Four Way Test, which asks Rotarians to examine things they think, say or do using the questions, “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendship? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?” is also an important aspect of Rotary. Across the globe, there are more than 35,000 clubs and 1.2 million members focused on “do-goodery.”

From service projects across the globe in places like Thailand, Mexico and Costa Rica to volunteering right here in Westchester, Rotarians are working to make lives better everywhere they go.

The Makeover Project so far has involved removing mulch and concrete from the garden.

When the world changed due to COVID in March, the club sprang into action and quickly partnered with Westside Pacific Villages to provide food, technology support and other supplies to more than 200 seniors who are the most vulnerable during this pandemic. Members of the club were also instrumental in recently chartering a new, cause-based Rotary Club that will focus their efforts strictly on fighting human trafficking.

As the Rotary Club and the EACG work together to improve the garden, stay tuned for more details and volunteer opportunities!

The Rotary Club of Westchester has a long list of activities and programs it supports. If you are interested in getting involved, volunteering, learning more or would like to donate to support their efforts, please visit their website at rotary-westchester.com.

Those interested can also send a message via social media to
@westchester.rotary on Instagram or @WestchesterRotary90045 on Facebook.

Posted November 2020.

By Lydia Smith. Photos by Lek Pollard.