Giving Back

Giving back is an amazing thing. We all owe it to ourselves and to our communities to give something back every so often.

Students work together to design their outdoor garden.

Whether it’s volunteering at a food bank, a homeless shelter, or a local school, we all have the opportunity to make a difference in someone else’s life.

This past weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to help out at an event at a local high school. The event was sponsored by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and was part of the ACE Mentor Legacy Program.

For those that may not know, the ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo will be held in Phoenix, Arizona, this year. As part of the host chapter’s responsibilities, we worked with ASLA to choose a local high school that had a need and would benefit from the Legacy Project.

Many of the Expo vendors bring large items such as benches, tables, pots, paver displays, playground equipment, etc., to the Expo to display. Instead of incurring additional expense to ship the items back to their warehouses, they can choose to donate their display items to the Legacy Project and receive a tax write-off in return. It really is a win/win opportunity for both the company and the local school.

This year, the school we are working with is a local high school that has a vocational education focus. The students who attend this school are primarily minority students who live all over the valley.

The school has a classroom with a large greenhouse and outdoor area that is used to grow plants for the horticulture program. Currently, the horticulture classes and the culinary classes share the outdoor space, where they grow landscape plants and vegetables for student projects.

The objective of the Legacy Project is to design a space in the outdoor area that would include an outdoor kitchen or grill, an outdoor classroom learning area, and to maintain the growing space for plants and vegetables.

When we arrived on Saturday morning, a few of us met outside and spent some time catching up while we waited for the organizers. We were discussing the project, and although we weren’t quite sure how many students would give up a Saturday to volunteer at their school, we were excited at the opportunity to participate and help the school with their project.

It wasn’t long before a few students stopped by and introduced themselves. We could tell right away that we were in for a great experience, because these students were excited to participate! They could not believe that a bunch of people who didn’t work at the school would give up their Saturday to volunteer and help them with their project.

It was quite an amazing experience, to say the least. We had over 40 students participate in our design charrette, and they had some great ideas. We split them up into seven groups and spent time working with each of the groups to help them develop a concept for what they thought would best serve the needs of their school.

It was amazing to see how engaged the students were and how their ideas seemed to burst onto the page as they talked about their plans and sketched their ideas on their base maps. By the end of the morning, we had seven great concepts.

We will be working together to finalize the concepts into a conceptual plan, and hopefully the project will be constructed in time for next year’s school session.

If you are coming to the Annual Meeting this year, we will have a short video describing the project in more detail that will be shown during the opening session that I think you will really enjoy. If you get a chance, stop by the host booth and let us know what you think.

Have you ever volunteered to help design a space for a school or your local community? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on twitter at @CDGLA or email: