Words of Wisdom and Reflection from a GTECH Ambassador

With the holidays upon us, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment – whether it’s attending the endless holiday parties and family gatherings or running out to get a gift for that last impossible-to-buy-for person on your list – before we know it it’s January and we haven’t gotten a chance to relax and reflect on the past year. Here at GTECH we’re not immune. It’s been a mad dash to get everything finished before the holiday break, but at the same time we wanted to make sure not to overlook how thankful we are for all of the support we’ve received over the past year. So we thought we’d share one of the most poignant moments of the year: Shari Holland’s speech from the ReClaim McKeesport graduation this past September. Shari’s words speak to exactly how we feel this time of year, and why we’re so grateful to be a part of such incredible communities.

A guiding principle in my life has been one from Dr. Martin Luther King: ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’ This past year as we have been Ambassadors with GTECH I believe that there have been glimpses of light added to the darkness and vacancy in our community.

Has it really been a year? I distinctly remember early on as an ambassador, listening to Linda tell her experience and story as a South Ambassador the year before . . . and already here we are, about to be in that same position. How did that happen? How did we get here already? I have such fond memories of meeting everyone and our evenings together at St. Stephens . . . good conversations and learning. It went so fast . . . .

It has been a life giving experience – not always easy and sometimes even tiring – negotiations regarding ideas and spaces for projects, laying river rock on Julies site, putting down wood chips in ground so wet we were up to our knees in mud, seeing the shed go up on Dana’s site or the hot dogs and hard work at Kim’s site, digging in the ground and hitting concrete, adding sand when the rain was so heavy it was rotting the plant roots – and then watering non-stop when the hot days seemed to never end . . . skills and learning . . . and perhaps metaphors for life as well!

I can’t tell you how many times people have stopped when some of us have been working and said, “this is beautiful,” “it gives me hope,” “thanks to all of you for making a difference by doing these projects in our community!” and “I’d like to help out.” Definitely improving the health of our community and so worth the work! Great times of working together: Hank showing up at my site night after night helping with the brick work – even when I didn’t show up – and the police being called when Masoud and I were getting a bench that was donated to the lot – someone said we were stealing tombstones – and rain at our potluck from the site, to my porch, to inside my house – the room was filled with energy! This is what I signed on for!

The philosophy of GTECH Strategies reclaiming vacant land to improve the social, economic and environmental health of the community is phenomenal and much needed in the Mon valley. The GTECH four prong methodologyinvestigate, act, connect and sustain is a holistic, comprehensive approach.

I think we have mirrored these four prongs in our Reclaim work this past year. First the investigate – learning, asking questions, getting information, meeting with landscape designers; then act – getting the lot ready, generating interest and getting volunteers, digging, cleaning and planting; connecting – with those around us, speaking publically about our projects, raising additional funds, Inviting others to participate, connecting with the community, learning to know neighbors as well as strangers; and now to sustain . . . which is a long term commitment to care for what has been planted – both in the soil and in the community.

On behalf of all of us as Ambassadors, we are grateful. Thanks to Mayor Cherepko and the city for welcoming GTECH to our community. We are thankful to GTECH for this opportunity –   thanks Andrew for having the vision – and by the way congrats to Andrew Butcher and to Julie Butcher Pezzino, of Grow Pittsburgh, the recipients of the 2015 Johnson Institute for Responsible Leadership Emerging Leader Award. We are certainly fortunate to have such community-minded leadership!

We are especially grateful to James, Ellie and Jibran who have given leadership locally to the work. We have been together this year and are a community of kindred spirits in a way, and I am personally so thankful to now know Dana, Rochelle, Kimberly, Sharon, Alandra, Walt, Rhonda, Julie and Hank . . . and Masoud – my neighbor who has been an additional ambassador volunteer extraordinaire.

‘A garden should make you feel you’ve entered privileged space – a place not just set apart but reverberant – and it seems to me that, to achieve this, the gardener must put some kind of twist on the existing landscape, turn its prose into something nearer poetry.’ – Michael Pollan

This year – entering the space of working together with so many incredible folks as a GTECH ambassador has been a privilege. This year working on my vacant lot project has been poetry to my body and soul.

I started with a MLK quote so seems fitting to end with one as well:

‘Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.’– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

If you are touched by Shari’s story and the McKeesport Ambassador program please consider a donation to GTECH to not only sustain but also grow programs like GTECH’s Ambassador program. Every dollar counts and until December 31st it counts twice as each donation will be matched up to a total of $15,000.




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