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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Over 100 GoogleServe Volunteers Together with Citizens Committee For NYC, RI Garden Club & iDig2Learn Spruce Up, Restore and Beautify NYC HHC Coler Hospital Roosevelt Island Campus

On June 20, volunteers from Google joined with Roosevelt Island's iDig2Learn, the Roosevelt Island Garden Club, Citizens Committee for NYC and many other volunteers to help beautify the NYC Health & Hospitals Corp Coler Hospital campus.

Roosevelt Island resident and iDig2Learn Founder Christina Delfico reports:
As iDig2Learn celebrates its sixth year, founder Christina Delfico submits its latest community win.

Recently, iDig2Learn had the chance to organize something really big, think Google big, think major New York City hospital, big.

It was like a giant green snowball, starting with a casual conversation in the garden, building up exponentially, pulling in more and more local talent. Listening and dreaming until we became an unstoppable force.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on New York City including the northern tip of Roosevelt Island and the hospital. This was the same year I had met the local public school, their PTA, and the youth center to see if there would be interest in my new initiative, the iDig2Learn educational science garden program. Little did I know, six years later, I would get a chance to help undo some of the storm’s damage and work side by side the caring people of NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler and extend the good work of neighborhood green garden groups.

I am so grateful to so many different neighbors who helped out including Dawn Price, Janine Schaefer, Maria Starkova, Judy Berdy, Vaughn Anglesey, the Roosevelt Island Garden Club (RICG) and Green Roosevelt Island Neighbors (GRIN) and for the corporate support for iDig2Learn from Citizens Committee for New York City (CCNYC) and Google. It is as if CCNYC had a magic green wand matching us up with huge corporate friends to make our neighborhood dreams come true.

“Over 100 Googlers joined us and dedicated their time and energy to sprucing up the grounds of NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler here on Roosevelt Island,”

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

said Peter H. Kostmayer, CEO of Citizens Committee for New York City. “We are so grateful to Google for their participation in our Love Your City volunteer program, which supports impactful projects led by regular New Yorkers through additional funding and volunteer power provided by dedicated corporate citizens. Special thanks to our Neighborhood Grants recipient and local community improvement steward iDig2Learn, an intergenerational volunteer group whose remarkable projects include creating an urban food forest to address food insecurity as well as developing Roosevelt Island’s first and only monarch butterfly corridor.”

It was a great day. There was this wave of over hundred and thirty Google volunteers, or Googlers,

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

as they referred to themselves, who arrived for garden work wearing Google T-shirts, smiles and can-do attitudes. They came in two shifts, with about seventy Googlers arriving in the morning and then another large group in the afternoon.

The vision was clear, build off the existing beauty of the seven grand Magnolia trees within Coler’s green space, repair or remove what was broken, add a fresh coat of paint and plant hundreds of flowers.

Photo Credit Olya Turcihin

Some Googlers would sand benches then stain the wood and paint the metal legs, others would assemble piece-by-piece raised beds that had arrived in boxes and were built to be wheelchair accessible, still more would dig out large swaths of grassy areas to create meadows of pollinator-friendly wildflowers to attract butterflies.

Four weekends leading up to the event master builder Vaughn Anglesey prepped the space for the big day alongside me. Anglesey never tired and was always excited about the project’s purpose. Those weekends were so peaceful for me as I watched birds and butterflies use the space and observed the natural rhythms of the sunlight patterns thinking about plant choices. I selected over 580 new plants, sourced locally from Fantastic Gardens and Northcreek Nursery, that were delivered the week leading up to the event.

I had estimated the number of people and time it would take to finish each task, but now it was go time. The event went like clockwork thanks to Jovemay Santos and Margaret Lopes. Nine different stations set up throughout the vast 43,000 square foot green space and local volunteers were on hand to guide each area’s group. Danny Mahadeo from Coler went to retrieve tools from the community garden. Coler’s Jose Serrano, from the grounds crew,

 Image From Olya Turcihin

came through and delivered three large boulders perfect to create a Japanese garden feature. RIGC’s Ferguson and Outreach Publicity Chair, Robert Ostergaard, brought garden expertise, tools, muscle and endless positivity. GRIN’s Anthony Longo brought composting know-how, his family, and even large sifters to guide Googlers on how to retain valuable soil during grass removal.

This was huge, and in fact, Andrew Rohrberger and Erika Lim from Citizens Committee for New York City, confirmed that this iDig2Learn day included the largest number of employees at any of their Love Your City events.

It was a joy to tap local talent including photographer Olya Turcihin, Michelle Fei who created the press release, and resident filmmaker Alex Enoch who filmed the day through his Studio150 Multimedia company with his media partner Nick Craner. Roosevelt Island Tree Board president, Dr. Ali Schwayri advised me on tree labels with Trees New York’s Sam Bishop helping identify trees. Fine artist Franta selected the many cheerful colors of paint for the shade structure.

At one point, I looked around and thought this is really happening, we’re doing it.

A Conversation Grows

Though the event was big, it started with a simple invitation in the summer of 2017. While visiting the local community garden, Mr. Melrose Barnes

 Photo Credit Olya Turcihin

suggested a visit to the gardens at the Coler hospital where he resides. Over the years Barnes had wheeled small amounts of garden compost back to Coler to keep his indoor plants healthy. He told Longo he hoped the outdoor space, damaged by Hurricane Sandy, could be restored as well.

I knew we had to meet the Coler staff and residents to see what could be done. Ferguson was “all in” and brought in RIGC’s Publicity Outreach Chair, Robert Ostergaard who couldn’t wait for us to get started.

In September 2017, Margaret Lopes, Coler’s Supervising Children’s Counselor and Jovemay Santos, Director of Therapeutic Recreation hosted the tour of Coler’s expansive grounds and it was obvious how deeply they cared about the residents at Coler. Ideas started to flow as they showed off the gardens and spoke of the healing power of time spent in nature. “Perhaps we could create a Koi pond feature,” Santos suggested. Ferguson and Ostergaard committed to restoring the herb container garden and the space adjacent to the memory care unit, on the spot, completing that work with Longo and the Coler folks in spring of 2018. I knew we could only achieve large-scale renovation with corporate help. That is where Citizens Committee for New York City came in with their Love Your City program.

Robert Hughes, CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler, stated, "We are extremely fortunate and grateful to the over 100 Google employees gave their time and effort to the beautification of the Coler gardens for the benefit of our residents. We are also very appreciative of the Citizens Committee for New York City for making this gift and wonderful day possible. Everyone here at Coler is touched by this generous gift of giving by all concerned. We are deeply moved by the volunteers from the Roosevelt Island Garden Club and Green Roosevelt Island Neighbors.” He added, “Special recognition to iDig2Learn for giving us this opportunity to enhance and create a therapeutic green space for our residents to enjoy for years to come.”

As I looked around just one day after the event, what touched my heart most was seeing so many of the the Coler residents already out enjoying the space.

 Photo Credit Olya Turcihin

As we took it all in, employees came out to see what had happened, knowing that much of it wasn’t there the day before.

I would have never guessed in a million years that iDig2Learn would be at this point to have such large-scale impact on our community. It is rather humbling to be part of such a positive experience and it makes me extremely hopeful for what’s to come.

The completion of the event is only the beginning and already all the island groups involved are in talks with NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler about further collaborations.

iDig2Learn allows children and their families to explore science and the origin of food through plant life. If you wish to be a part of the next big project please follow @iDig2Learn on Instagram or contact me at

iDig2Learn is a project of the Open Space Institute, Inc., a nonprofit public charity exempt from federal income tax under Sections 501(c)(3) and 509(a)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code.
Ms Delfico shares more photos and adds:
Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

New York, NY (June 20, 2018) Google volunteers arrived for the morning shift thanks to iDig2Learn’s supporter, Citizens Committee for New York City’s Love Your City program. Coler staff and residents, alongside members of the Roosevelt Island Garden Club (RIGC) and Green Roosevelt Island Neighbors (GRIN) worked with Googlers to transform NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler’s 43,000 sq.ft. green space into an inviting oasis on Roosevelt Island.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

David Strayker gives a thumbs up (center) as NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler’s Deputy Executive Director, Leah Matias thanks all groups involved. Leah Matias and Senior Associate Director, Monsy Nieves-Martinez agreed that although this was a one day event for Google and CCNYC, their work will have enduring impact for Coler. L to R in background NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler’s Associate Executive Director, Al Pistone, Director of Therapeutic Recreation, Jovemay Santos, and Senior Associate Director, Monsy Nieves-Martinez.

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

Former PTA president and local Dawn Price volunteered and led Googlers prepared to untangle an overgrown area.

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

Roosevelt Island Garden Club member Julia Ferguson (in hat) guided Googlers tasked with removing gravel, weeding and loosening compacted soil in the center bed.

Photo credit (L): Olya Turcihin

(L) Googlers use organic whey-based stain to freshen up benches and the newly added lumber prepared by local master builder Vaughn Anglesey (Anglesey measured (R).

 Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

Jovemay Santos and Margaret Lopes from the Coler team were always on hand and received deliveries of more than 580 new plants iDig2Learn selected from Fantastic Gardens and Northcreek Nurseries. Google employee (center) served as traveling plant “doctors” alongside local Jenna Longo (L) and iDig2Learn’s Christina Delfico (R) carting flowers to every corner of the garden.

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

RIGC’s Julia Ferguson, Mr. Melrose Barnes (L) and GRIN’s Anthony Longo (R) celebrate.

Margaret Lopes, Supervising Children’s Counselor explains how it all happened.

Longtime iDig2Learn supporter, Citizens Committee for New York City (CCNYC), ushered in Googlers. CCNYC’s Erika Lim (L) and Andrew Rohrberger (R) helped make it all possible through CCNYC’s Love Your City Program.

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

Fine Artist Franta selected bright colors to cheer up the space. Friendly yellow for the exterior poles, topped with spring green to mirror the grassy lawns. More intense colors to stand out in the shaded interior, orange at eye-level with magenta high above to expand the height of the structure, and hot yellow for detailing the piping to accentuate the design. Coler approved the color scheme straight away excited the project was advancing.

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

Only with the extra helping hands of Google and Citizens Committee for New York City could this be possible.

Photo credit: Olya Turcihin

CCNYC’s Katie Grassle (L) and team Google painted railings and created a large pollinator bed to extend the Monarch butterfly corridor on Roosevelt Island.

Photo Credit: Olya Turchin

GRIN’s Anthony Longo guided Googlers and reminded everyone that sifting returns valuable soil to the ground.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

Google’s University Programs Specialist Mike Bufano (center) addressed the crowd acknowledging that some Googlers traveled over an hour to get to Roosevelt Island and their impact was felt. Bufano encouraged employees to share their experience stating if more employees took part in GoogleServe, more neighborhoods would benefit. On a fun note, CCNYC conveyed that when the directions to the big event were shared, folks at Google said not to worry, they are Google, they would find it. Ferguson, Longo (L) and CCNYC’s Andrew Rohrberger (R).

Before and after photos I took of the center bed.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

L to R Jenna Longo, Anthony Longo, me and Janine Schaefer always ready for a big project.

Jose Serrano of Coler’s grounds crew pitched in and placed decorative boulders to create a second Japanese garden feature to mirror the existing one.

Photo Credit: Delfico

Jose Torres from Coler’s publicity department (L), Nieves-Martinez in blue, Santos in white, CCNYC’s Lim (R), and GRIN’s Longo (in back) during one of our many scout days.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

Maria Starkova (L) always willing to be part of any iDig2Learn event lends a helping hand.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

Monsy Nieves-Martinez, NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler’s Senior Associate Director supported this effort from the beginning.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

Andres (Jay) Molina gave new flowers a good soak, excited that the space was being beautified in time for summer.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

RIGC’s Publicity Outreach Chair, Robert Ostergaard (second from the right) leads the Google team and local RI Historical Society president, Judy Berdy (far left) to create a Japanese garden feature.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

Presenting hand painted Koi to Jovemay Santos for placement in the garden was part of the day with a big thanks to Mr. Barnes and Anthony Longo for starting the conversation. Santos coordinated side by side with me for months with guidance from Margaret Lopes and Mr. Barnes leading up to event day. Lopes chose raised planters rather than ground level cold frames so residents using wheelchairs could easily plant.

Photo Credit: Olya Turcihin

Nelson Rosa NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler’s Rehabilitation Technician and David Strayker were excited use the space more often.

As the event ended, Julia Ferguson had given Mr. Barnes some seeds and I snapped this photo.

A week later the beans were 3 inches tall. Now Mr. Barnes is part of the Coler green team watering every morning at 8am with Kenny Ealy handling the evening watering around sundown.

The day after we rejuvenated the space, Santos invited me to tour the gardens with NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler’s CEO, Mr. Robert Hughes who was delighted with the results. He looks forward to inviting the community over.

Jovemay Santos (L), NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler’s CEO Mr. Robert Hughes (Center) and me (R)

Groups and individuals involved in this project include iDig2Learn; NYC Health + Hospitals/Coler, Citizens Committee for New York City, Google, Green Roosevelt Island Neighbors (GRIN), Roosevelt Island Garden Club (RIGC), Studio150 Multimedia, Roosevelt Island Tree Board, Trees New York, North Creek Nurseries, Fantastic Gardens, Andrew Rohrberger, Erika Lim, Mike Bufano, Mr. Melrose Barnes, Jovemay Santos, Margaret Lopes, Robert Hughes, Leah Matias, Al Pistone, Monsy Nieves-Martinez, Jose Torres, Robin Middleton, Maria Alinea-Bravo, Jose Serrano, George Smith, Kenny Ealy, Nelson Rosa, Andres (Jay) Molina, David Strayker, Danny Mahadeo, Julio Bonet, Christopher Wittman, Therapeutic Recreation Services, Coler’s Hospitals Police, Vaughn Anglesey, Anthony Longo, Julia Ferguson, Robert Ostergaard, Neal Weissman, Dr. Ali Schwayri, Sam Bishop, Franta, Olya Turcihin, Michelle Fei, Alex Enoch, Nick Craner, Dawn Price, Janine Schaefer, Maria Starkova, Judy Berdy and all the volunteers and residents who made this project possible.The Rooseelt Island Garden Club has more on the Coler campus green planting and clean up.