Emily Dix, ’12, HH all-star, writes:
Alternative Spring Break = One amazing week with the Haverford House Fellows, fellow Haverfordians, Social Justice, gardening, tours of Philly, and amazing meals together. I had a great time, and I left with a deep appreciation for Iris and the mission of the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, and for the Haverford House Fellows’ incredible commitment to social justice and desire to share their experience with us.
In our time at Norris Square, we worked in a neighborhood in North Philly that I probably would never have otherwise been to, and it really opened my eyes to the inequalities and disparities in resources found in different areas of Philly. The neighborhood has had problems with drugs, with empty lots being used for drug transactions, and with companies from other parts of Philly coming there to dump trash in empty lots. One of the first things you notice is the amount of glass and trash in the streets compared to other parts of Philly. Norris Square offered the first real after school and summer programming for kids in the neighborhood.
The gardens portion of the organization, run by Iris (one of the speakers and recipients of an honorary diploma at last year’s graduation), converts empty lots in the neighborhood into beautiful community gardens, which serve the vitally important purpose of giving people in the community a place to gather. Events are held in the gardens, there are kitchens where neighbors can cook together, and the gardens all feature small sheds or rooms, cheerfully decorated, where kids can hang out. The gardens grow vegetables and herbs, which can be used for medicinal purposes, and everything produced is shared with the community. We had the opportunity to work in the main garden, which was huge, and beautiful even though nothing was blooming yet. We spent most of our time raking and picking up trash, and weeding. Some of the kids came to the garden after school, and they were eager to give us tours of the gardens, and to help out cleaning up the gardens. Iris explained that the presence of the gardens helps reduce problems with dumping trash and drug activity in the neighborhood by getting rid of empty lots and serving as a display that people DO care about quality of their neighborhood.
A run-down of the rest of our days:
Monday: The day began with Bagels and the ceremonial making of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. This was our first day in the main garden, and the first time we met Iris. After a short introduction to the garden, lots of raking. A break for PB&J, then more raking and the transfer of leaves to trash bags. We returned to Haverford House, and Jess cooked up a delicious dinner! (Having big dinners together was one of my favorite parts of ASB: great discussion about social justice and delicious food- what could be better? It was a nice time to come together and talk about the day.)
Tuesday: A short day at Norris Square. The bags of leaves are starting to pile up, and you can really see the garden! We left Norris Square at 2 and visited the Philly Folklore Project, a small gallery space within walking distance of Haverford House, which currently has a display about the Asian Americans United (AAU) annual fall festival in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. We took a long walk through the neighborhood surrounding Haverford House, then came back for delicious burritos prepared by Joe.
Wednesday: Our last day working at Norris Square. The garden really did look better with all those leaves raked and the trash taken out of the streets! We got to see the kids again, and a group of little boys tried to help us clear away all the sticks we’d collected. Sticks flew (I may have held my breath. Thankfully no one’s eye was poked out). We stopped at the Fair Foods Farmstand to buy fresh and sustainable ingredients for dinner, which we (the Haverford students) cooked that night. After an adventure involving a stalled trolley, we made it back to Haverford House with the ingredients. Janice from the CPGC came over, and we prepared a number of elaborate and delicious (if I do say so myself) pizzas for our last night at Haverford House!
Max, Sarah, Sarah, Joe, Mary, and Jess: Thank you for an amazing week!
Conclusion: If you ever get the opportunity to do anything with Haverford House, DO it!