By EMILY SAWICKI | Contributing Writer
An underserved community in Oxnard has better access to herbs, children’s books, cookbooks and a place to relax in a quiet garden, thanks to the efforts of two Palisadian middle schoolers.
Girl Scouts Eleanor Gee and Melanie Papadopoulos, members of Santa Monica Girl Scout Troop 28935 and students at Corpus Christi School, said they spent about four months preparing, organizing and undertaking efforts to improve the Dr. Manuel M. Lopez Community Garden in Oxnard. Their efforts earned them a Girl Scout Silver Award.
The honor is bestowed on Cadette Girl Scouts (in grades six through eight) who improve their communities with meaningful projects. According to Girl Scouts of the USA, the suggested minimum number of hours each girl spends completing a Silver Award is 50.
“We found this community garden in Oxnard,” Papadopoulos described in a recent interview with the Palisadian-Post. “We wanted to make it an inviting community space.”
They brightened up the garden “by adding tables, outdoor rugs, wicker chairs—and my favorite part of it was building this bookshelf that Eleanor and I painted and we filled it with hundreds of books.”
“And just seeing the kids’ eyes—their eyes lit up when they saw these books,” she recalled.
The girls, along with other troop members and their families, collected donated furniture and books to be placed in the garden. They also built and refurbished outdoor planters and furniture.
When the improvements were finished, Gee and Papadopoulos held a spring garden event for local families.
“After we completed the garden in about late March, we had a big garden party for all the kids in the neighborhood to come by,” Gee said. “We had each kid paint a little birdhouse. We had food for everyone, seeds for them to plant, shovels for everyone who came to the party and bags and water bottles—stuff they could use for a while.”
Gee added that they selected the project because it was a chance for them to do something hands-on to make an impact on the community, and gave the girls an opportunity to get creative.
“We hope that it can be a safe place for people of all walks of life to come together and live their life,” Gee said. “There are the very rich in Oxnard and the less fortunate—there’s a large homeless population. So, we hope the garden becomes a place for everyone to come together, a place where kids can do their homework.”
Papadopoulos added that when neighborhood kids would go past the garden as they worked, they looked skeptical—but eventually, “they started to peer in, and then they came in and just got excited,” by how much the space had improved.
The garden, which first opened in 2012, is tended to by a group of community volunteers and was designed to be a shared community space. Those volunteers will continue to water and care for the herbs the scouts planted and make use of the furniture and books.
Both scouts shared how much girl scouting meant to them, adding that they both wanted to pursue their Gold Awards once in high school—a distinction comparable to the Eagle Scout Award presented by the Boy Scouts of America.
Both Gee and Papadopoulos grew up in the Palisades—Papadopoulos was even the recipient of one distinct local honor at a very young age.
“I’ve been here all my life … I was actually the first baby born in January in the year 2005, so I was in the paper, and that was really cool,” she shared, adding that she loves growing up in the Palisades—“it’s a beautiful neighborhood. The ocean view, the nature—I love that.”
Both scouts wanted to thank their troop leader, Francesca Taylor, for her support during their project.