A small green space in Queens helps court-involved youths turn their lives around.
The first time Tatiana visited the Curtis “50 Cent” Community Garden in Jamaica, Queens, she didn’t want to touch the dirt.
“It was scary,” she says. “I just had to stick my hand in real quick and get it over with.”
That was around two years ago. Tatiana, then in 10th grade, had racked up around 200 absences at her nearby high school. She was failing all of her classes, and a handful of petty crimes had landed her in juvenile court. Through the Queens Youth Justice Center, an alternative-to-detention program, Tatiana was placed in an all-girls group. Every Thursday, Shernette Pink, who runs the program, led the teenagers in conversations about self-esteem and motivation—discussions they rarely had at home or school.
But it wasn’t all talk. Pink had recently been contacted by Heather Butts, a coordinator with H.E.A.LT.H. For Youths, a leadership and development nonprofit that established a presence in the 50 Cent Garden, one of the few green spaces in a neighborhood where public parks make up only 3 percent of the total acreage. Butts suggested bringing some of the teens from the Queens Youth Justice Center to volunteer at the garden.
Tatiana was one of the first from the program to work in the garden, a 10,983 square-foot, well-manicured corner lot at the edge of a sleepy residential neighborhood. Just overhead, the Long Island Railroad occasionally rumbles by. The New York Restoration Project (NYRP), a nonprofit dedicated to cleaning up public spaces across the five boroughs, bought up the land along with 51 other plots in the late ‘90s. In 2008, a donation from the rapper 50 Cent (who grew up in the area) funded a rainwater harvesting system and overhauled planting areas.
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