ROCHESTER — The "Garden of Hope" gives Gloria Rivera continued faith in the goodness of others.
"I now have somewhere to come," she said at The Children’s School No. 15 following last month’s ceremony dedicating the garden in honor of her son, U.S. Marine Staff Sgt. Javier Ortiz-Rivera. Ortiz-Rivera died last November in Afghanistan and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
The "Garden of Hope" also was dedicated in honor of Debra Follaco, a kindergarten teacher who died in 2004. The garden was originally created in 2005 to recognize Follaco’s contributions to the school.
"We were taken back by how much she is still remembered so fondly by her students … in the school that she loved," said her husband, Ray Follaco, said before the ceremony began.
The garden, located on a corner of the school grounds at 494 Averill Ave., was expanded this spring as part of the American Red Cross of Greater Rochester’s Next Generation Leadership program, explained Liz Cinquino, assistant director of the agency’s Youth Leadership Development and Mentoring Programs.
To fulfill the group’s community-service requirement, the teenagers who are enrolled in the program held a brainstorming session, and one of the students came up with the idea of creating a garden in memory of someone special, Cinquino added. She got in touch with Rosemary Villarrubia-Izzo, a colleague in the Rochester City School District, and the "Garden of Hope" project was born.
A $1,000 grant from Monroe County’s Youth-As-Resources funded the project, which included a service learning requirement. The students — representing James Monroe, East and Greece Olympia high schools and School of the Arts — learned how to coach, teach and mentor younger children as well, according to Cinquino.
Hector Rosario said that he and his fellow students also dug holes, planted flowers, laid tiles that serve as stepping stones and even cleared garbage for a couple of weeks.
"They needed our help," said Rosario, 18, a senior at Monroe. "I wanted to do it. … It went great."
The students worked alongside parents from the school’s English as a second language classes and their children. Ortiz-Rivera’s widow and three children also happened to be visiting from North Carolina in June and helped put the finishing touches on the garden, said Ortiz-Rivera’s brother, Orlando Ortiz.
"Everything fell into place," he added as only days before, Ortiz-Rivera had also received a "Hometown Hero" award from the American Red Cross of Greater Rochester.
"It was kind of neat," Ortiz remarked. "And this (garden) is awesome."
The school’s students also painted colorful stepping stones — tile slabs that the teens and an art teacher helped waterproof and lay on a path to the two garden areas. One set of eight tiles — with such messages as "We care about each other’s feelings" — leads to a corner with a tree and a shaded bench in honor of Follaco, and the other 17 stones lead to the other corner, which has tables and flowers. The students’ messages for Ortiz-Rivera include: "Peace Javier Hope" and "Thank You."
Along the perimeter, the school’s parents also planted vegetables that will be used to prepare meals during the summer-school session, Villarrubia-Izzo explained.
"They created this wonderful garden … a place of peace where the community, parents, children and teachers can come together," Cinquino noted.