Centreville Guided by summer intern Tori Jameson, 13 workers at the Centreville Labor Resource Center have learned how to build raised, garden boxes. The project was part of their continual education learning new skills and is hoped to yield both funds and jobs for the center.
The boxes are available for sale to the public. They come in two sizes, 6x3 and 2x2, but the workers can build them any size a customer wants and can install them in people’s yards.
“They’re made of untreated cedar, which is rot-proof and water-resistant,” said Jameson. “So they’ll last three times as long as the pine ones which are sold commercially, and they get even prettier as they age. They’re also food-safe, but treated pine is not.”
The boxes are designed for growing vegetables or flowers; raised garden beds allow for more weed control and prevent runoff of nutritious soil. And Jameson said the smaller, deeper one is especially good for growing root vegetables, such as carrots.
“Because the boxes are raised to allow drainage, you can grow more in them than you could in a flat space on the ground,” said Jameson. “So people can grow fruits and vegetables with deeper roots. The boxes allow more density and also look really nice in a yard.”
The workers cut the wood in advance and will assemble and install the boxes on site. Jameson has a bachelor’s in technology education from N.C. State and taught carpentry to middle-schoolers. So, she said, “I worked with the guys, in both English and Spanish, on their measurement and carpentry skills.”
She taught them how to use a miter saw, and now they’re training each another. “And that’s the mark of a successful project, that they’ve taken ownership of it,” she said. “People can contact us for pricing of the box and installation.” Call CLRC Director Roberto Fernández or center Coordinator Molly Maddra at 703-543-6272.
“Most places try to make a huge profit off the boxes, and then you still have to install them,” added Jameson. “But here, we’re just charging for the cost of the materials and labor. The center, itself, is nonprofit. But we want to generate employment for the guys and create a beautiful product for the community.”
Jameson’s doing a 10-week internship program at the CLRC. She’s in the ordination process at Andover Newton Theological School in Boston, en route to becoming a minister with the United Church of Christ. And she’s had a great time at the center.
“Being welcomed by this community has been a treat and a blessing,” said Jameson. “The guys are wonderful people and I’m glad to be able to work with them all summer.”
Nathan Watts, of Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville, is also a CLRC intern. He’ll graduate in December and wants to become a college chaplain. At the center, he’s done outreach to update the volunteers on what’s been happening there this summer.
“These people have great courage and heart.”
— Nathan Watts, CLRC intern and aspiring chaplain
“I’ve also been promoting a language-exchange program the CLRC will have in the fall and winter,” he said. “It’s reverse ESL — teaching local residents Spanish. We started with our data base, but will add in the churches and anyone in the community who wants to learn Spanish and make some friends.”
Watts said the new program will build relationships, encourage education and direct dialogue and empower the workers. “They’ll be asked what phrases, cultural customs, etc., they want to teach English speakers,” he said. He also noted there’s more to the workers than meets the eye.
“Some of these men weren’t day laborers in their own country,” said Watts. “They were leaders — teachers, business owners and nurses. So they were used to a different type of work and more responsibility than day labor. But that’s their reality as they’ve come to America. So this program gives them leadership opportunities again.”
Two of the workers, Marco Antonio Noriega and Diego Abel Gonzalez, both came from Guatemala. Noriego described the center as “a nice place that helps us earn money to send to our country to our families.” And he said both interns were wonderful instructors.
Agreeing, Gonzalez said, “They’ve helped us and it’s meant a lot. I appreciate that they came here and gave us their time.” A Mountain View High grad, he’s been coming to the center for three months. He does landscaping, moving and other jobs and helps translate for workers new to the CLRC.
“The center’s what we need in this community because it provides us with the help we need learning English and vocabulary,” said Gonzalez. “It also helps get workers off the street, but only if the community hires us.”
“The center is fantastic,” said Watts. “It’s practical because it puts money into the pockets of people who need it — not only the workers, but their families back home.”
Jameson said leadership development has been this summer’s focal point. “One day, a group of middle-schoolers visited us, and the guys taught them how to assemble the boxes,” she said. “Then the workers and staff taught them some Spanish, including animal names and some phrases.”
“Immigration reform is what everyone’s talking about, but this is a real model of how to meet people’s needs,” added Watts. “These people have great courage and heart. They’ve traveled all the way from Central America; it was traumatic and totally uprooting, but they survived. And here, the workers negotiate the price of their work — and that’s empowering and humanizing.”
Both he and Jameson have loved interning at the CLRC. “I didn’t expect to like it as much, be so welcomed and learn so much,” said Jameson. “I’m so thankful and grateful to have spent a large chunk of my summer working here in this community with these guys. In my religious training, we’re taught about justice and advocacy, and it’s great to see these high-minded ideals in a practical context and to learn from the people, themselves.”
Watts called the center a “good and extremely successful response to the realities of day labor. It educates people about the importance of taking care of immigrants. I’ve never been part of anything quite like this, and it’s something I’ll carry with me as an example of what people can do to support others living in their community.”
Praising the work of Fernández, Maddra and former center director Shani Moser, he added, “There are immigrant communities everywhere, but not all of them have something like this.”