Ambassador Highlight – Natalie Thomas

Natalie Thomas joined the Grounded network as a ReClaim South Ambassador in the 2013-2014 year and was involved again in the ReClaim South 2.0 Sustaining Momentum program in 2015-2016. Through the Ambassador program, Ms. Natalie created a community garden on a vacant lot in Beltzhoover to share with the community and engage children living in Beltzhoover. Recently, the Grounded staff visited Natalie’s site for a workday to spruce it up and get it ready for the summer. The entire staff, and even our office dog Wickett, spent the morning weeding, mulching, planting flowers, and eating pizza to support Natalie and her efforts in Beltzhoover. We decided to highlight Natalie in this blog because of her outstanding dedication to her community and her wonderful work with Grounded over the years.

Natalie Thomas and Evaine K. Sing (Executive Director) in Beltzhoover during the Grounded staff workday.

Tell me a bit about yourself. What neighborhood you live in, how long you have lived there, what you like to do in your free time,  your interests or hobbies.

I was born in McKeesport and moved to Beltzhoover in 1969. I moved to New York in 1980 and came back in 1986. I moved around to Mt. Washington and Allentown, and did not know what to do with my life. In 2011, Creative Vision came into my neighborhood and started to build a garden. I asked who was going to water this garden? They let me take charge and water the garden. Kids from the neighborhood came every day to help out and plant flowers. From 2011 until now, this garden has grown and multiplied. From this work, I met people from Hilltop Alliance and the city’s councilmen who were interested in the garden, who then introduced me to Grounded’s work. I met Evaine two days later. Evaine is so passionate, warm, and welcoming. To me, meeting Evaine was like meeting my sister. 

Some of the projects and programs I have been involved in over the years in Beltzhoover include:

  • Helping the children in the community create a wreath to hang up at Warrington Recreation Center in October every year.
  • Warrington Recreation Center Christmas Caroling every year, we have been invited to PPG Place to perform for the past two years and will go again this year.
  • Annual Women’s Tea Party at the Warrington Recreation Center that will be held for the 4th year this October.

Can you share with me your history with Grounded?

After I met Evaine through Hilltop Alliance, I became involved in the ReClaim South Ambassador program. This was from 2013-2014. I was then involved again for the second round, Sustaining Momentum, and this was in 2015-2016. Grounded helped me nourish the garden and helped me find myself. They helped me find how much I really enjoyed the garden and this type of work within the two years of training and leadership support. I’m thankful for them and their support. This year, we opened the garden with wonderful support now that I have fallen ill. How blessed! Grounded Strategies, Hilltop Alliance, the local organizations and everybody helped support it to grow and manicure this garden. Even though I have fallen ill, the garden must grow because it’s a community garden. In two weeks we will be putting a mural on that wall next to the garden. Along with Voice Against Violence’s summer program, they will be coming down helping out with the garden and putting up the mural. The Art Institute of Pittsburgh is sending two artists for the mural and Warrington Recreation Center will be also helping out.

 What was the Ambassador process like for you?

It was wonderful! I didn’t know anything about planting gardens or really how to communicate with the public. But through Grounded, they helped me find myself, enjoy my passions and find my joy. This program allowed me to be able to reach out and interact with my co-ambassadors and other neighborhoods. It showed me what I can do to support our garden along with other ambassadors’ projects. It taught me what flowers I can plant over there as well as here. Overall this program gave me a sense of direction.

What are your thoughts on the work Grounded does?

It’s a wonderful effort! The leadership support that I see Grounded providing. They have instilled knowledge in myself and allowed for growth of my passion. Not only that, Grounded is not just hitting the City of Pittsburgh they are hitting North, South, East, and West! For example, they are working in McKeesport where I was born and raised. I find out that the one girl I was friends with as a kid is also working with Grounded. It shows how Grounded has reached near and far. 

Has interacting with Grounded changed your outlook on how you view Pittsburgh or Beltzhoover?

Yes, they did they helped me mature with my train of thought of how I see vacant lots and my neighborhood. They helped me broaden my outlook on the City of Pittsburgh, specifically of how we are changing and growing over time. Without Grounded I would be blind, not knowing what everyone does in the city and how they are making the efforts to make things work and make the change for a better tomorrow.



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