Making a Difference in Communities

by Beth Paluch on May 3, 2013

PLANET Day of Service and Come Alive Outside LogosOn April 22nd more than 125 professional landscape companies, associations and students combined with 1,900 volunteers from across 36 states, Canada, Trinidad and Tobago, to participate in and facilitate approximately 140 projects through PLANET’S Day of Service initiative. From revitalizing parks and playgrounds to creating outdoor spaces for seniors, school children, and disabled residents to enjoy and even planting community gardens that will be harvested for a local food bank … this great industry proved again just how much they care about their communities and the people in them. The theme for Day of Service this year was COME ALIVE OUTSIDE and one inspiring company took their efforts to a level that surprised even us!

Inspired and Energized

Mazelis Grow to Give GardenMazelis Landscape in Nesconset, New York, has been active in their community for a long time, but when they became engaged in the Come Alive Outside movement, they became inspired with a real purpose and are truly having fun helping others get back outside and enjoy the benefits. The Mazelis team approached Day of Service this year with a two-fold vision: they wanted to create a Come Alive Outside community event that people would remember along with creating an outdoor space that would give back long after this one special day had passed. Stephen Mazelis had worked with the local historical society in his town for years and knew it was a long-time goal for that group to create what they envisioned and named a Grow to Give Garden.

Mazelis Grow to Give GardenThey wanted to create a garden that was maintained by the community, and the harvest would be donated to the local food bank, which is always in great need of fresh fruit and produce. As Mazelis and his team began thinking about what they wanted to accomplish for their Day of Service/Come Alive Outside project, he remembered the 22 acres of land owned by the Historical Society and their unrecognized goal. He presented a plan, and the Historical Society was thrilled with the idea. Together, they partnered and began to plan something very special for the entire community, which would include both the planting of the Grow to Give Garden and a full day of fun outdoor activities for the whole family.

The Power of Partnering

Volunteers at Mazelis Grow to Give GardenStephen Mazelis explained that their plans actually came together quite quickly and the entire event was planned in about a one-month time period on a relatively small budget. Because he knows the importance of creating and maintaining good relationships within the community, the Mazelis team and their friends at the Historical Society set to work fast, telling their story and gaining support in all directions. Local businesses that could not donate time offered resources and money to support the event. The local paper ran a full-page ad two weeks in a row at no cost to promote the Grow to Give Garden and Come Alive Outside activities.

Volunteers at Mazelis Grow to Give GardenIn their efforts talking to people, the group raised over $2,300.00 that helped cover food costs for the day. Everything was free, and everyone was welcome.

In the days leading up to the event, the Mazelis team prepared the 2500 square foot spot where the Grow to Give Garden would soon be planted. Donating over 1000 vegetable plants, 12 fruit trees and 12 raspberry and blueberry bushes, Mazelis Landscape was ready to engage a host of volunteers to make this special garden a reality. With over 40 young people and adults on hand from local private schools, Girl Scout and Boy Scout troops and adult volunteers as well, the planting began and continued until the garden was complete.

Volunteers at Mazelis Grow to Give GardenThanks to Mazelis Landscape and their leadership partnering with the entire community, the Historical Society reached their goal in creating the garden, local youth and adults made a significant contribution to creating and later maintaining the garden and the local food pantry will be supplied with fresh produce all season long!

When we asked Mazelis how they pulled something this big off so fast he said, “It’s all about finding good partners to work with. I questioned once in another situation why so many people joined in to help with a community project and a friend told me, ‘Steve, good people are attracted to good people…’ I guess that’s how it naturally works,” Mazelis concludes.

A Come Alive Outside Experience for Everyone

Mazelis Come Alive Outside EventWell, that was just part of the day! The Mazelis team and their Historical Society partners made sure everyone in Smithtown who wanted to Come Alive Outside on this spring day would have ample opportunities and a variety of fun experiences to do so. Throughout the rest of the day, close to 250 children and adults showed up and did just that: they had fun! Some learned how to dig for clams from a local expert in a shallow pond created just for them. Although it was a little cold for kids to wade in and dig around, they were able to use a rake and find their treasures that way.

Some played in the sand castle area or made gigantic bubbles in a soapy pool with shaped coat hangers. There were Volleyball games, horse shoes and croquet matches, kite flying and an old-fashioned colonial stickball team there making sure plenty of home runs were batted in.

A little Come Alive Outside education came into play, as well, as stations were set up for things like a pickling demonstration, antique farming tool display and one of the 26 unique U.S. mobile garden units showed how you can grow your own food in just about any space … even the bed of an old pickup truck!

A few sheep and a group of week-old lambs showed up for the fun along with some chickens and freshly laid eggs. Participants also had the opportunity to paint slats for a picket fence that would surround the Grow to Give Garden. What a GREAT idea!

Lessons to Share

  • On-going Awareness – We asked Mazelis how he plans to keep his Come Alive Outside efforts from being a one-time event. “Well, we’re meeting next week to start planning next year to evaluate what could be improved upon and how we can get more people involved. We’re also looking at doing an event in the fall with hayrides, fall games and a truck load of pumpkins. Who knows, there are lots of things happening already that we can support as well throughout the year.”
  • Stephen Mazelis at Come Alive Outside EventA Gift that Keeps on Giving  The Mazelis team and so many of the other companies that participated in the PLANET Day of Service incorporated an important element into their community projects. When you create an outdoor space that others can enjoy and benefit from for a long time to come, you are giving a gift that keeps on giving. In addition to the energizing fun activities to remind people to Come Alive Outside, Mazelis Landscape provided a way to give food to the needy, provided an opportunity for continued community service as young folks maintain the garden and left something everyone involved could look back at with pride and say, “We did that together!
  • Possible Challenges  One challenge Mazelis experienced was successfully getting the attention of larger media sources. “Being that this took place on Earth Day, I was surprised the top story was about the amount of street sweepers dispensed locally that day,” he said. Mazelis plans to make sure the video created around their Come Alive Outside Day of Service makes it to the media after the fact. Click below to see the fun 2-minute video of their event.”
  • How Do You Do This Stuff? – When asked what advice he would give other companies reaching out to their communities, he candidly replied that he almost bit off more than he could chew on this one. Without the partners he engaged, it would not have been possible. “We met a couple times a week in that month and created massive punch lists to make sure the multitude of details were covered right down to first-aid kits. We did laugh that we hoped a few kids would skin their knees in the process and we would only need band aids.” Mazelis advises that if you are not well connected in the community to start with something small. “You could do any of the things we tried with a smaller group and be successful. Do clamming for 40 … why not?”

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