A Vacant Lot… and so much more

At the corner of Estella Avenue and Climax Street in Beltzhoover, there sits a vacant lot. In 2011, a group called Creative Visions decided to take some action and proceeded to clear the lot, create a few garden beds and plant some flowers. Already a significant improvement, that is not where this story ends. Enter Ms. Natalie Thomas, a self-proclaimed “nebby neighbor,” who happens to live just across Estella with a great view of the lot. She wanted more.  

In 2013, Grounded  began recruiting for the first Hilltop Ambassador program, ReClaim South. Natalie was one of the first to sign up. Grounded recruited a total of 12 Hilltop residents to lead the movement for reclaiming vacant lots in their own neighborhood. We call these residents “Ambassadors” – people who care deeply about their community and are motivated to make change but maybe need a little extra help to do so. For eight months, the Ambassadors participated in classes to learn about the process of reclaiming vacant land. Throughout the classes they designed their own vacant lot projects and rallied their communities to bring the project to life. Natalie chose to expand and reaffirm her garden and so the Belthoover Unified Positive Effect Community Garden was born. Since then, she has dutifully cared for and programmed that corner of Estella and Climax, adding something new each year and developing other community events in celebration of the work. 

For Natalie, the lot is a symbol of love, positivity, hope, peace and above all –  unity. These are the characteristics that every healthy community has. Beltzhoover has faced many challenges and the residents of this community have seen years of change, not all for the better. People have moved out or moved on, and those that remain have watched as investment has waned and amenities are minimal. With projects like Natalie’s, pockets of communities like Beltzhoover become alive again, signs that people have not and will not give up on their home, that they still enjoy and seek the company of their neighbor, and that all people should have access to a little beauty. 

Six years later, Ms. Natalie remains an active and proud Grounded Ambassador and we are humbled by her level of commitment. Every year, without fail, we receive regular updates about the garden’s progress and new additions. Over the last few years, the garden has been recognized and honored by the community, local officials, local media and many more. Everyone who knows Natalie is aware of her pure energy and joy and its central focus and application to the stewardship of the garden as a means to heal her community and herself, which made this past weekend that much more special. 

This Saturday, on May 18th, the garden represented of all these things and more. Love, positivity, hope, peace, and above all – unity. The union of Ms. Natalie Thomas and Mr. Frank Avigliano took place in the afternoon on a sunny spring day. The garden was in bloom, family and friends wore bright colors, everyone was wrapped in smiles. We hope the Beltzhoover Unified Positive Effect Garden continues to be both the source of joy and location of joyous events like this one. Natalie, like her garden, continues to grow and represent as a shining example of why it is we do what we do. 

At Grounded, turning a vacant lot into ‘more’ goes beyond beautification or increasing property values – it is a process that binds us together. Breaking ground, sowing seeds, programming and stewardship – done together. Those moments build into a relationship of trust and are then fostered into a relationship of family. Natalie is and forever will be a member of the Grounded family. We wish her the best in this new phase of her life and look forward to many more celebrations of love and community on vacant lots just like this one. 

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