First-Year Law Students Nurture Community Garden Among Service Projects

As part of the law school’s annual Orientation Service Project Day, seven first-year law students and their second-year project coordinator gathered at the Wellston Community Garden a few miles north of the Danforth Campus recently to weed, shovel, and rake their way into the hearts of a small, nonprofit agency and a struggling community.

The Wellston Community Garden is coordinated by More Than Carpentry Christian Ministries, which started the garden earlier this year. The organization was among 20 nonprofit agencies that benefitted from this year’s close to 200 students participating in the Orientation Service Project Day.

More Than Carpentry Christian Ministries was founded in 2005. “In the beginning it was just friends and family members, but we now have over 2,000 people in our database,” says Tammy McGarry, the organization’s development director. “Our growth has been slow but steady, just like the garden.”

A key moment in the agency’s life came when McGarry and her husband, Jim—More Than Carpentry’s executive director—acquired the brick building that adjoins the current community garden area. Tammy McGarry says it took two years just to clear out the building, but since then they have used the facility to hold three apprenticeship classes to teach community members valuable skills.

“Jim is a master carpenter, and we have a custom cabinet shop where people without job skills can take classes that lead to a journeyman certificate,” McGarry says. Classes include job skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, and personal money management. Additional community classes and beautification projects are planned, as well.

For the students, the project was a good way to conclude their week of Orientation.

“I spent most of the morning filling a newly built wooden raised bed with soil,” says first-year law student Sarah Hirschfeld-Sussman. “It was tough work, and we had to take many water breaks, but by the end I could really see a difference in the garden. What took the group of us one morning could have taken weeks without us pitching in. It was a good reminder of how a little help from lots of people can go a long way.”

For each annual public service project, a second- or third-year law student is assigned as leader of a group of entering first-year students. The community service day is designed to help students meet other first-year students who share their interests, learn about organizations that appeal to them, see an area of St. Louis that they might not have found on their own, and of course, help the community.

In addition to the Wellston Community Garden, this year's entering J.D. students volunteered at: the International Institute of St. Louis’ Festival of Nations at Tower Grove Park; Alzheimer’s Association; Animal Protective Association of Missouri; Cardinal Ritter Senior Services Adult Daycare; Community Action Agency, St. Louis County; Epworth Children Family Services; Every Child’s Hope; Forest Park Forever; Foster Adoptive Care Coalition; Gateway Homelessness Reversed; Gateway Greening; Hope Happens; Independence Center; Karen Catholic Worker House; KidSmart: Tools for Learning; King’s Day Care; Lydia’s House; Operation Food Search; Paralyzed Veterans of America, Gateway Chapter; St. Louis Crisis Nursery; SGSM Network; Shalom House; St. Louis Naturally Occurring Retirement Community; and St. Patrick Center.