Columbia Volunteers Give Riverside Valley Community Garden a Helping Hand


On Thursday, October 3, 2013, over forty Columbia University volunteers participated in Lend Lease's annual Community Service Day project at the Riverside Valley Community Garden located at 138th Street and 12th Avenue-just north of Columbia's Manhattanville development.  Volunteers worked in shifts to help beautify the garden by raking leaves, replacing damaged planter boxes, adding erosion-control solutions, changing mulch, and patching up the asphalt jogging path.

"Community Service Day is very important to our company.  This year, we worked with Columbia to provide construction knowledge and manpower to help improve the Riverside Valley Community Garden," said Ralph Esposito, executive vice president at Lend Lease. "This is a great example of Lend Lease's and Columbia's commitment to give back to the community we work in."

Riverside Valley Community Garden is responsible for maintaining a 15-block stretch of Riverside Park from 135th Street to 150th Street. The Community Garden was founded by long-time local resident Jenny Benítez and a group of neighbors 27 years ago. "At that time, this area was a shanty town for homeless drug addicts and dealers, as well as a garbage dump for used hypodermic needles, broken glass and abandoned cars," Benítez said.  She and local residents set aside a plot of land at 138th Street and Riverside Drive to plant a wide variety of vegetables and fruit-bearing trees and distribute their harvest each year to people who pass through its gates. With their help, along with major support from the Riverside Park Fund, Riverside Park has been transformed into a series of lovely floral gardens throughout the park. 

Currently, Jenny Benítez, 80, and her husband, Victor, 83 spend six hours a day, seven days a week maintaining the garden. "We have raised our four children in this West Harlem community and have worked within Community Board 9 for more than 50 years. Children and families in this community depend on this garden, and Columbia and Lend Lease have helped keep it alive," she said. "With their help, the garden can continue to flourish and provide free fruits and vegetables to the community-we are eternally appreciative of their efforts."

For the last five years, Lend Lease has worked with Columbia to help sustain, beatify, and restore community gardens as part of the Lend Lease Community Service Day. Previous projects include the garden located on West 152nd Street next to the Wilson Major Morris Community Center (across the street from the Dance Theatre of Harlem) and the Community Senior Reading Garden at the Grant Houses garden on West 125th Street (west of Amsterdam Avenue). 

Columbia's faculty, students and staff have long engaged in partnerships and programs that provide services to individuals, families, schools and businesses in Upper Manhattan. "Helping local gardens supports our commitments to community service, sustainable building, and the enhancement of our neighborhood. This garden has been a great asset for the community and we appreciate the opportunity to give back and improve our community's sustainability," said Philip Pitruzzello, vice president of Manhattanville Development at Columbia University.