Friends of Ryan Park, led by director Ganga Duleep, has brought life back to the South Norwalk site with a butterfly garden and small community garden.
Now thanks to a grant from McDonald's, they will bring life to a nutrition program at the park.
Last Friday, McDonald's Tri-State Owner/Operators awarded Friends of Ryan Park with a $5,000 grant that will support a gardening entrepreneurial program.
By teaming up with Norwalk's Serving All Vessels Equally SAVE, a mentoring program formed by 16 local churches, youth will spend next summer learning about organic gardening. In addition, the organization will plan a month-long day camp incorporating reading, math and science utilizing the gardens.
"You've brought people back here, you've put plants back here," said state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) to Duleep at the park.
"You've done something that a lot of people didn't think could happen, was unimaginable in a way -- you've brought a lot of energy back to the park."
Duff also thanked Dave Hawthorne, who owns two of the McDonald's in Norwalk, after the check presentation.
"Government grants are slim these days and when we have the private sector working with us that really means a lot and makes a difference to people," Duff said.
Friends of Ryan Park provides an oasis in an inner city, low-income area by maintaining the park with its numerous dwarf fruit trees, gardens and amphitheater. It is one of six nonprofits across the tri-state area selected to receive funds from the McDonald's New York Metro Nutrition Network.
The Nutrition Network is a community outreach initiative that was launched last year and designed to provide funds to local organizations to build or enhance existing grassroots nutrition programs and to collaborate with communities in advancing nutrition education. The seed funding will help five selected organizations, along with an additional sixth, sponsored by Dasani, to bring nutrition information and guidance to their respective communities.
"Norwalk has a lot to be proud of," said state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Norwalk). "I've lived in cities for a number of years. And cities often tend to forget that there is also an outside, that people need to get outside. Norwalk doesn't forget that and Norwalk is fortunate to have people that don't forget that."
Among those people is master gardener Susan Carlson, who Ganga thanked for all the volunteer hours she has put in at Ryan Park since the community
"It's going to be a lot better. And there will be more young people involved," Carlson said. "They find out from doing this like how to grow the plant, how to market it, where to take it to sell it. Those are the important things. And they learn that apples don't just come from the grocery store. They have no idea what a farm is. They live in the city. This is an adventure for them.
"They can also learn accounting from this. If they are selling it here on a Saturday they've got to keep track of their books. They also understand how to apply what they are learning in school. Word problems you have in school don't mean much. But if you put them in an actual situation you can get them to understand what's going on."
Common Councilwoman Anna Duleep expressed her gratitude to her mom and McDonald's for their support of Norwalk's youth.
"Another feature of this program, and I'm thankful McDonald's believes in it, is we are working to combat gang violence as well as the problems with obesity and with lack of exercise and things affecting young peoples health," Anna Duleep said.
"I know how hard it is to get teenagers to smile and to know that an adult cares about them. When we painted the fences around the garden I saw teenager after teenager give mom a hug because they knew how much she cares about them. And I think that is the most important feature of any program when you are working with young people--to let them know that the community cares."
Youngsters in another part of Norwalk found out the community cares about them last Saturday when a refurbished playground was unveiled at Bouton Street Park.
The park's grand opening marks the culmination of a unique collaborative project led by the Norwalk Corporate Citizenship Alliance NCCA, a committee of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce and the Norwalk Department of Recreation and Parks, with support from community partner Northeast Community Church.
Funding and volunteers were provided by major corporate partners Pepperidge Farm, Inc. and Beiersdorf, Inc., as well as GE Capital, AT&T, FactSet Research Systems, Mutual Security Credit Union, The Hour, Tauck, and The Norwalk Children's Foundation.
"When the NCCA invited me to partner on the playground project, I immediately suggested Bouton Street Park because the playground equipment was more than 20 years old and badly in need of repairs," said Mike Mocciae, director, Recreation and Parks, City of Norwalk, in a statement.
"I'm excited that, as a result of successful public and private partnerships, Norwalk families have a new safe place to play and have fun with their children."
The project used the community build model, which empowers the local community to participate in the design and installation.
Norwalk parents and children gave input by drawing pictures of their dream playground, voting on specific components and colors, and voicing concerns about fencing, drainage and lighting.
Playground equipment provider O'Brien and Sons used the feedback in the design and the feedback also allowed the Recreation and Parks Department to make additional improvements to the park overall.
Corporate and community volunteers worked together, with supervision from Landscape Structures, on the installation.