Landmark graduate Leonard Pouder believes that he is by nature a selfish person, the last one who would jump into a community project. However, during his Self-Expression and Leadership program last year, he began to get inspired about making a difference. His home town of New Rochelle, New York was in the middle of an urban renewal project. The town, which is within 20 minutes of New York City, has worked hard to be a desirable place to live for commuters. The sidewalks, the streetlights, everything about the city was being upgraded. However, there were many places in the city that still looked just plain ugly.
Pouder recalls: “I started to think to myself, ‘I could be the one that makes that nasty intersection beautiful!’ I actually got excited about giving back and contributing.”
A landscaper by profession, Pouder took on the planting of flowers in many of the empty dirt beds that were located at many intersections, particularly those at the entrance of the town. It wasn’t as simple as just planting a ton of flowers. First Pouder had to do a presentation at a city council meeting to get approval for the project. When they found out that Pouder wanted to take on the entire project with no cost to the city, they were stunned–He received a standing ovation. Pouder still had to price up all the details and give an exact proposal, which he soon did.
According to Pouder, the process has been “An education on working with bureaucracy and government.” Although everyone was firmly for the project, there were still hurdles to overcome. It turned out that a key intersection was owned by the New York State Thruway Authority, and that their permission had to be gained through an entirely different process. Another intersection was co-owned by the city and a resident, and the resident was away on vacation and couldn’t be reached.
Nonetheless, Pouder was able to overcome all these obstacles, partly through his enthusiasm, and partly by inspiring others to join him in the project. The local chamber of commerce was very helpful, and was Joanne Bartoli, a 75-year old dynamo who is the retired president of the New Rochelle Garden Club, and who has taken up the cause as her own.
Pouder also knew that if he would keep his promise to get the massive amount of planting done at no cost to the city or its residents, that other landscapers and garden centers besides his own would have to chip in. Several other such businesses, as well as Pouder’s own, have jumped in enthusiastically with both supplies and labor to get the initial planting done last fall. Two large sites have already been planted, with many more to follow this year.
Pouder is determined that the project is built to last–The flower beds will require annual upkeep that takes time and money. He is following the model of nearby White Plains, New York, that has gotten local business sponsors such as hospitals, churches and developers to ‘adopt’ the gardens and gain recognition. This is already happening.
Pouder can’t wait for spring, when the flowers such as the 5,000 daffodils planted last fall come into bloom. Check back here later for a before and after update! For more information, email Leon at [email protected].
[Picture used with permission of photoeverywhere].