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“Planting a seed, watching it grow and develop, nurturing and taking care … there are so many lessons built in.”
— Cheryl Cruz
Cheryl Cruz grew up on an Indiana farm. She loved getting her hands dirty in her mother’s vegetable garden.
These days, Cheryl is a Resident Services Coordinator at Hazel Heights, a Central City Concern affordable housing community in East Portland. She spends her days supporting residents, many of whom have recently exited homelessness, on their path toward self-sufficiency and independent living. Cheryl still loves to garden, and she thought Hazel Heights residents might find joy in it too.
“It just feels good to see things grow,” she said.
But that’s tricky on East Stark Street. Hazel Heights is home for 300 residents, but short on green space.
So Cheryl contacted SnowCap Community Charities, a nearby nonprofit with a community vegetable garden, to see if they could help. They struck an agreement: if Hazel Heights would provide the gardeners, then SnowCap would provide garden boxes, seeds, soil, water and even some expert advice.
Now, Cheryl and a group of Hazel Heights residents are finding that they have real green thumbs. They’ve planted an abundance of vegetable seeds and are watching them grow. Every week, they’re out tending to their plots – weeding and thinning and battling pests so that their plants have the best chance to thrive.
“We can’t have group resident meetings these days, but we can get out there with our face masks on,” said Cheryl. “It feels so good to be outside.”
This kind of project is a natural fit for Hazel Heights. Cheryl and her fellow Resident Services Coordinator, Anne Danielski, have a knack for finding creative ways to build community and connection among residents. They offer social gatherings, empowerment groups, recovery meetings and more, as well as online events during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shannah Knaup, Associate Director of Permanent Supportive Housing, said that one of CCC’s goals is providing a foundation on which families and individuals can build a brighter future.
Not long after their initial planting, the Hazel Heights gardeners worriedly watched two weeks of rain.
“I thought it’d all be rotten,” remembered Cheryl. “But I was amazed! They all came up!”
When the skies cleared, the garden boxes were bursting with green growth – the precursors to tomatoes, beets, squash, green beans, peas, peppers and more.
Cheryl believes that gardening comes with a multitude of rewards.
“Planting a seed, watching it grow and develop, nurturing and taking care … there are so many lessons built in,” she said.
And in a few months, the Hazel Heights gardeners will be able to share a bountiful harvest with their families and neighbors.