By Stephanie Myers-Gonzalez
It’s no coincidence that Kim Halyak’s volunteer career resembles how a garden grows. She started volunteering as a teenager, planting the seeds of service. Over the years, she took on more opportunities, cultivating that passion. And last spring, she experienced one of her crowning blooms, Cooper-Young’s first Garden Walk.
Halyak was the 2016 recipient of the Cooper-Young Community Association’s Alexia Hampton Memorial Award. She and husband husband, Bill Schosser, who volunteers working on electric bicycles for Revolutions Bicycle Co-op, moved to Cooper-Young from the Evergreen District 10 years ago. Over the years, she’s done a little bit of everything — stuffing envelopes, preparing snacks for first responders, teaching English to refugees, tutoring adults for the GED, raising money for St. Jude, writing for the Lamplighter, participating in yard-a-month cleanups, volunteering in the potting shed of the Dixon, and more. You may best know her in her role with the Garden Club, though.
She and a few others started the Cooper-Young Garden Club in January 2015 with 11 people. Just two years later, membership is 33 and counting, including seven members who don’t even live in Cooper-Young.
“The comments I keep hearing are, ‘We love the Garden Club because it’s more than just a social club, we get things done,’” Halyak says. “Our club members really do — everything from weeding and mulching the ginkgo trees to putting in corner planters to decorating the gazebo for the holidays to labeling trees for our arboretum grand opening in the spring.”
Only just over a year after its creation, in May 2016, the Garden Club took on its biggest initiative, the first Garden Walk, featuring 23 gardens and 451 visitors. Participants loved the “creative, eclectic, functional” gardens featured, Halyak says. For the 2017 walk, there are already more than 100 gardens signed up. It’s the project of which Halyak is proudest, and her hope is that its popularity will encourage all Cooper-Young neighbors and businesses to beautify their outdoor spaces.
“Can you imagine the enormous, instant effect if everyone decided to add flowers, trees, and pollinators to our urban landscape?” she asked. “What could grow? Pride, community, beauty, more birds, wildlife. What could decrease? Blight, crime, noise, litter. It’s something to think about.”
The care, involvement and friendliness Cooper-Young volunteers have for each other and the neighborhood is part of what keeps her motivated, Halyak says. “The instant gratification of seeing the effect of how my small effort combined with others to make a noticeable change is very rewarding.”
Halyak encourages those who are new to neighborhood volunteering to start with what they’re passionate about. That can include building up the causes or places they love — like she does with the Garden Club and volunteering in the potting shed at the Dixon, and husband Bill does by working on electric bicycles at Revolution Coop—or working to improve the issues that drive them crazy.
“Any and all effort you put into a need can only improve what was there before you started. Your involvement inspires others, and that huge problem gets whittled down to size,” Halyak says. “This quote seems perfect for the times: Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.’”
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