7 October 2023: Volunteers help clean the Alabama Gardens in the third ward. Credit: Jimmie Aggison/Houston Defender

On Saturday I visited SHAPE Community Center where Houston volunteers came to help revitalize one of the most visible and involved community centers in Houston’s Third Ward community.

A $250,000 National Neighborhood Promise® grant from the Republic Services Charitable Foundation is being used to strengthen SHAPE.

“There were 12 organizations in the country and SHAPE Community Center was selected as one of those organizations to receive that grant, specifically to replace the roofing, plumbing, and beautify the gardening while cleaning the community,” said SHAPE’s Executive Director and co-founder Deloyd Parker.

Sewer linerepairs have been completed to bring the plumbing up to code as well as the installation of a new roof to the building. These projects were completed earlier in the year and will help reduce the insurance rates as a new roof will help keep water leaks down. Saturday, the focus was the Alabama Garden and the herbal garden which runs alongside SHAPE’s building on Live Oak.

The Alabama Garden is important because Houston’s Third Ward has been labeled a food desert. Community members pay $5 per month for a 4-foot by 40-foot gardening bed to grow vegetables, which they share with their family and friends, and the leftovers they share with various food pantries in the community.

“We are one of the oldest gardens and we’re so proud to have this group of volunteers out here today,” said Terry Garner, co-ordinator of Alabama Gardens. “This helps us sustain our garden, gives us more visibility, and lets people know that we’re still here in the community trying to make a difference in addressing those issues of food insecurity.”

Members of the Texas Southern women’s basketball program was on hand helping clean the Gardens.

“The Tiger Way is what we live by. It stands for togetherness, integrity, God, excellence and resilience,” said Vernette Skeete, Texas Southern women’s basketball head coach. “We wanted to get 100 hours of community service of giving back and being present; not just showing up for the cameras, but actually being out here doing things that uplift, promote and help the city grow in the Godly way. There’s always time to do the Lord’s work, and it’s always time to give back to the community that’s giving so much to you. Instead of asking people to come out and support us, we decided that we’d support them and then we reap the benefits of them coming back to support us after that.

On the side of SHAPE’s Live Oak building reads the words, “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people, and you can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”

“We have to lead the people through example. Telling you something is one thing, but walking with you and doing it with you is a whole other animal. So, we have to walk with the people,” said Parker.