Ravens player #21 Brandon Stephens assists two Curtis Bay Elementary first graders with making a plant bed. Not only was the event a meaningful day of community service, but was an opportunity to teach youngsters the valuable life skill of gardening. The 12 garden beds will serve as a supply of fresh produce as Curtis Bay Elementary sits in a food desert. (Photo by James Fields)

By Demetrius Dillard
Special to the AFRO

United Way of Central Maryland, the Baltimore Ravens and about a dozen volunteers representing various local organizations teamed up for a beautification project at Curtis Bay Elementary School in South Baltimore last month.

The volunteer day of service, referred to as “Caw to Action,” featured numerous in-person and virtual events and activities, varying from community clean-ups to assembling stress relief kits and decorating kindness rocks. 

Curtis Bay was one of 63 volunteer sites in Central Maryland. The project for the day was raising plant beds and building a corresponding shed in what became a community garden and outdoor space located behind the school building.

Baltimore Ravens cornerbacks Brandon Stephens and Khalil Dorsey worked alongside community members and students to plant seeds that yield kale, spinach, beets, green beans, egg plants, cucumbers, squash and more.

“For me it’s just a really cool experience just to come out and give back,” said Naomi Manley, a volunteer who also serves in the Air Force.

“I think not only just volunteering, but also putting together a garden bed is really cool because you’re teaching kids about growing things and it’s something they’ll be able to enjoy, and it’s bringing everybody together so I think it’s a rewarding experience.”

Not only was the event a meaningful day of community service, but was an opportunity to teach youngsters the valuable life skill of gardening. The 12 garden beds will serve as a supply of fresh produce as Curtis Bay Elementary sits in a food desert. 

Funding for the plant beds and additional gardening materials was made possible by a grant from the Greater Baybrook Alliance, said Shenika Foster, who serves as the community school coordinator at Curtis Bay.

“It will bring resources not only to the students but to their families as well,” Foster said, explaining that the closest supermarket is two bus rides away for surrounding community members who don’t drive.

“This will give them a resource and something they can use as a tool to learn from to be able to grow vegetables, grow the fruit, and then they’ll actually be able to use it and take it home with them.”

“Just to continue to be able to bring resources in that’s going to help and build this community up, it brings me joy.”

A small group of first graders participated on the morning of the volunteer day of service roughly an hour and a half after volunteers assembled garden beds, but students from all grades partook in planting seeds over the course of the following week and beyond.

“The resources are great and the example of volunteering is a great model too for our kids, but the best thing of all is our kids feel important,” Curtis Bay Principal Mark Bongiovanni said.

“When they see Baltimore Ravens players here, when they see all these 20 volunteers coming to work with them, they just feel important and that’s what we want for them.” 

Dorsey, who is in his second year with the Ravens, enjoyed interacting with the children, who took a break from art class and gleefully dug their hands through the soil. 

“I wish I learned this when I was young, but they’re getting this education right now – that’s the best thing,” he said. “And seeing what it does for them, like putting a smile on their faces, I think that’s great.”

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