LOS ANGELES, California – Residents and their families, and staff at the Dream Center are reaping the benefits of gardening thanks to the efforts of Christy Wilhelmi, A.K.A. the Gardenerd, and other local community leaders. The Dream Center is a volunteer-driven non-profit organization dedicated to helping needy inner-city children, families and adults with food, clothing, shelter, life rehabilitation, education and job training to achieve their highest level of independence. Nina Girvetz and Dru Hammer, parishioners at the Dream Center, spearheaded the effort to transform the vacant lot next to their downtown Los Angeles location into a usable space. The two women saw tremendous possibilities with the 5,000 square foot lot, which was unattractive and seldom used. “There is so much research about improved outlook if people can even see a garden from a window. I just knew we could improve the space with some direction,” Girvetz said. She contacted Christy Wilhelmi of Gardenerd.com for help. Wilhelmi used her extensive knowledge of organic gardening and food garden design to develop a plan that would transform the landscape into something that was not only pleasing to the eye, but also functional. “The people here at the Dream Center were dying to get their hands in the dirt,” Wilhelmi said. “I wanted this garden to provide them with some structure and the opportunity to grow their own food. Gardening unifies both physical activity and healthy food choices, which is much needed among many of the residents. It also provides a grounding spiritual and creative outlet. It’s healing and healthful in so many ways.” Wilhelmi presented a conceptual design based on a wish list from the residents. “They really wanted fruit trees, and plenty of vegetables for the kitchen, like broccoli, squash, and tomatoes.” She said, “In January we planted 10 bare-root fruit tree that have already produced some fruit this year. The women were so excited and felt so proud of their work.” The project required funding to get off the ground, and it took a combined effort to secure the much-needed donations for materials. The Armand Hammer Foundation provided a $4,300 gift as well as a $10,000 grant, and Home Depot awarded the Dream Center a $2,500 Beautification Grant. Kellogg Garden Products donated over 900 cubic feet of organic planting soil and more than 200 pounds of organic fertilizer. Jimmy Williams of Hayground Organics provided hundreds of vegetable transplants, and Bourget Bros. Building Materials offered gravel and flagstone at cost. Gardener’s Supply provided discounts on trellises and other supplies for the garden as well. “None of this would have happened without the passion and dedication of Nina Girvetz, who donated the ten organic fruit trees, seeds and some decorative bougainvillea in addition to being the point person for much of the project.” Wilhelmi said, “We were waiting on funding, so we missed the spring planting season, but now that everything is in place, we expect to install and plant the garden this fall.” The garden will feature avocado, orange, apricot, peach, nectarine, plum and apple trees, as well as blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, lettuces, spinach, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts (a favorite among the residents), garlic, onions and an herb garden. There are also plans for a composting area to divert kitchen scraps, a flower garden, and a gathering area in the shade. Planting, watering and harvesting vegetables will add a new and enjoyable dimension to the Discipleship’s activities at the Dream Center. The residents plan to include the fruits and vegetables grown in their new garden in some of the 2,000 plus meals served each day to residents and other community members. “Christy will be instrumental in teaching those currently staffing the Discipleship program how to tend to the garden. These individuals, in turn, will pass on their knowledge to rotating groups who will continue to cultivate the garden at Dream Center for many years to come. It’s quite exciting to think where we will be even five years from now,” said Girvetz. According to Vilma Connor, Director of the Dream Center Discipleship, feedback from residents and staff about the garden has been overwhelmingly positive: “The Dream Center’s motto is ‘Find a need and fill it, Find a hurt and heal it.’ The garden project has proven to do both by not only providing a place of peace and tranquility for everyone to enjoy at the Dream Center, but to also give our women going through recovery something to build, plant, and grow. Planting the garden has been therapeutic in helping them take their eyes off their current issues and focus on something that gives life. We have seen a new air of confidence and sense of purpose in these women since the project first started and we are so thankful at the Dream Center to Nina Girvetz, Dru Hammer, and Christy Wilhelmi for making this possible.” Details of the Dream Garden’s official grand opening ceremony are expected to be released in late 2010. —- End — For more information about this project or other opportunities to create organic vegetable gardens , please contact Christy Wilhelmi at 310-773-4806 or Christy@gardenerd.com. Additional information about the Dream Center is available at www.dreamcenter.org.