- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2007

About 50 volunteers cleared a winter’s growth of weeds from the Youth Garden in the U.S. National Arboretum yesterday, leaving rows of dark, rich soil ready for eager young gardeners.

They were just a small fraction of the 3,400 volunteers scheduled to work yesterday and today at 35 D.C. sites, painting schools, cleaning riverbeds and building playgrounds as a part of Servathon 2007.

The volunteers donated their labor for local nonprofit organizations, saving them about $400,000, said an official from Greater DC Cares, which organizes the annual event with America Online.

At the Youth Garden, the volunteers readied the plot for the low-income children who learn how to plant and grow vegetables there in a program run by the nonprofit Friends of the National Arboretum.

“It’s a great story because urban youth who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to get their hands in the dirt get to come here and help plant and grow,” said Marguerite Kondracke, president of America’s Promise and one of the volunteers at the garden.

She was joined by the entire headquarters staff of the organization started by former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell to better the lives of young people.

Many of the nonprofit organizations based in the District do generous work elsewhere but fail to invest in the local community, said Siobhan Canty, president of Greater DC Cares, who’s organization attempts to fill that void.

“Servathon is a little bit of a Trojan horse,” she laughed. “We get a lot of new folks out for Servathon and then try to get them involved in a lot of other opportunities. To get them to invest locally is really what we’re trying to do.”

Friends of the National Arboretum employees were surprised and relieved at how much the volunteers accomplished during the cool spring morning, work that would have taken the handful of employees much longer to complete.

The volunteers said they were glad to lend a hand.

“It was a lot of work, but I think it’s good for the community,” said Tracey Tingle, assistant to the vice president of America’s Promise. “It will definitely be a good thing when families come out here tomorrow to see all the great work we did.”

Classes of third through fifth graders from schools in mostly low-income neighborhoods near the arboretum visit the garden once a week during May for lessons in insects, soils and plant growing, said Jenny Guillaume, who is ending her tenure as the Youth Garden coordinator.

During the summer, groups of children come from local recreation centers and plots are also available for local families. Some families will come tomorrow to start the planting, she said.

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