Green initiatives growing more than just a beautiful garden on the Southeast Side

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CHICAGO -- At the outset, the new garden at Advocate United Church is a beautiful upgrade to the Southeast Side community. But it is also so much more.

It is a  rain garden, built to handle the large amounts of water the community often sees and struggles with during the rainy season.  It is engineered to handle about 35,000 gallons of water at one particular time.

Ramont Bell is the outreach coordinator for Faith in Place, a nonprofit focused on promoting green infrastructure and storm water management.

This particular site built by Chicagoans who have faced their share of hard times, either in jail or on the streets.  And now they’re learning a trade to turn their lives and communities around.

Shawn Smith is now an environmental remediation specialist with High Bridge, the company behind several of the five rain gardens built at different churches across the area, thanks to a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Association.

“ I feel like I’m giving something back to the community,” Shawn says.  “Everyday people are coming by every day that live in the neighborhood and say, ‘What a beautiful job you guys are doing!  It didn’t look like this before.’”

And it isn’t just the churches reaping the benefits. To date, Ramont and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District have given away 500 rain barrels across Chicagoland to help residents as well.  Each 55 gallon rain barrel can divert thousands of gallons of runoff water to later be used in home gardens, saving about 30 dollars a year in water bills.  And they keep nearly two millions of water out of Chicago’s sewers.

“Its great for the environment.  It’s great for the flooding in your area and also your plants love it,” says Ramont.  “It’s a lot better than the tap water for your plants.”

Ramont says expanding the water barrel program helps build a better earth and a better community as well as opens the doors to other green projects.

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