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A group of UW Tacoma students helped turn a parking lot into a community garden for immigrants and refugees.

A parking lot seems an unlikely place to grow food, but for one parking lot in Kent dull concrete has been replaced by vibrant greenery as Paradise Parking Plots, a community garden for refugee and immigrant populations in the area.     

On a Saturday morning in early March the Center for Service and Leadership (CSL) piled a group of students into a UCAR. They spent the day gardening alongside members of the community to help the  “empowerment space” take root.

Students didn’t just help break ground on the refugee and immigrant community garden. They assisted in the creation of what will become a community-grown financial enterprise. In the future, a kitchen will be constructed adjacent to the garden, where growers will learn different means of packaging, preserving and making profit from the literal fruits of their labor.

UW Tacoma students at the Paradise Parking Plots. From left to right:  Brittany Owen, Carly Dunn and Lea Hermanspann. Carly Dunn, the CSL’s Local Services and Events Coordinator, searches for service events like this that UW Tacoma students can take part in. She heard about the volunteering opportunity at Paradise Parking Plots from a coworker and quickly began organizing the event.   

According to Dunn, this sort of continuity is exactly what she looks for when researching volunteer opportunities for UW Tacoma students to get involved with. "You have to think about the longevity of the project that you're doing," Dunn said. "This [refugee and immigrant community garden] is really unique because they’re going to work toward commercializing the space. It’s a sustained project."        

The garden was made possible thanks to a threefold partnership between King Conservation District, Kent Hillside Church and World Relief Seattle. Tracing its origin back to 1979, World Relief Seattle is a community-based organization that enables local churches to support immigrant and refugee populations around them.

As written on the World Relief Seattle website, the Paradise Parking Plots gives refugees and immigrants, as well as local residents, a place ”to grow culturally appropriate foods that promote a healthier lifestyle, improve food access, foster economic independence and build community.” In Dunn’s opinion, its not suprising that students would want to help these two communities. "I do think a lot of people on campus want to show solidarity for these communities in particular, especially in the current political climate." Dunn said. "Volunteering with projects like this teaches students to mobilize and learning that they have the capacity to make an impact.”

UW Tacoma volunteers began their day with coffee, an orientation from the partners involved and an introduction into the sustainability of the garden. They spent the remainder of their afternoon getting their hands dirty. Though the agenda was straightforward, the focal point of assisting in the building of the garden was more involved. "[The gardening day] is about showing that you see people and you're willing to get to know them," Dunn said. 

The CSL has a list of potential learning outcomes students may experience after they serve. Dunn pointed to one in particular: "students are more able to evaluate the congruence of their actions, beliefs and values," she said. There’s a reason this is the outcome she mentioned.

"Sometimes — and I can speak to this personally — you can be passionate about something and feel like how you spend your time doesn't really support how you feel," Dunn said. "I think making sure that students have the ability to align their beliefs and values with their actions and make that connection is a goal of every event we do."       

Written by: 
Danni Derrickson / March 29, 2018
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu