Lukas Flippo, Senior Photographer

This week, volunteers from two New Haven area nonprofits, Common Ground and United Way, led their second annual “Week of Caring” — a series of community service projects.

The “Week of Caring” began last Monday, when the volunteers spruced up Guilford’s Women & Family Life Center. The second event of the week was the installation of planting beds at the Dr. Reginald Mayo Early Learning Center on Tuesday. Other events included helping at the Columbus House in New Haven, volunteering at local homeless shelters on Wednesday and joining in a “Dinner for a Dollar” community meal on Friday in Hamden. According to Mark Allegrini, United Way’s senior director of marketing in the greater New Haven area, over 100 volunteers participated in the week’s events.

Tuesday’s installation of six planting beds in front of Dr. Reginald Mayo was carried out by a group of volunteers affiliated with the two organizations. The goal is for students and their parents to plant different types of vegetation in the new beds over the coming weeks.

“For two years we have talked about having children and their families go out and create gardens and watch food grow and harvest and then eat, and now it’s coming into play,” Monique Brunson, the principal of Dr. Reginald Mayo, said on Wednesday. “We want to get children out in a playful way and still learning and engaging with the Earth and finding out about how things grow.”

Brunson said that the planting beds were the first step of building an expanded playground where children and families could come to play and learn. She said the school plans to install more flower beds in the future. Brunson added that the school is also looking to install mud kitchens, a place where children can learn basic cooking skills with mud, as well as music walls, where children can learn music with built-in instruments.

The safest place for children to be during the COVID-19 pandemic is outside, Brunson said. This fact inspired the Dr. Reginald Mayo playground project.

Allegrini said that the goal was to create outdoor spaces where families could learn about gardening together. He said that the nonprofits had previously reached out to the school about volunteering, and were informed that they could help by providing logistics for the planting bed project. 

“We have just over 100 volunteers total for the week, people like to come out and there’s a lot of power in community volunteering,” Allegrini said. 

Marinda Monfilston, who has worked at the Yale Office of Diversity and Inclusion since 2013 and has been involved in United Way since 2019, helped volunteer at the Dr. Reginald Mayo planting bed event. 

She said that she had been involved in projects for the school before and was happy to volunteer again when she heard about the gardens. 

“To have [the flower beds] here is great for young children as well as their families,” Monfilston said.

United Way of New Haven was founded in 1920 under the name Community Chest of Greater New Haven.

LUKAS NEL