January 27, 2017 –
Seven Army Reserve Soldiers from the 143d Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) joined hundreds of helping hands in reviving Orlando’s Colonialtown North Community Garden Jan. 27, 2017.
Directed by Green Works Orlando in conjunction with the National Football League’s Environmental Program, the community project attracted scores of volunteers to don gloves, pick up rakes and carry bags of mulch.
“I love volunteering,” said Sgt. Jonathan M. Bell, human resources noncommissioned officer, Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 143d ESC. “I’m proud to see that so many of my fellow Orlando residents feel the same way.”
Bell, an Orlando native, and his battle buddies wasted no time getting their hands and uniforms dirty as they worked side-by-side with Annunciation Catholic Academy students, University of Central Florida athletes, Verizon Wireless employees, NFL representatives and City of Orlando council members in bringing the garden back to its former, greener glory.
“Colonialtown North Community Garden is one of the oldest of its kind in Orlando,” said Ian Jurgense, sustainability project manager for Green Works Orlando. "Thanks to our new partnership with the NFL and our close connections with community leaders, we can enhance the garden’s life sustaining qualities with fresh soil and vegetable plants while protecting its natural beauty with new fences, garden beds, and weed mats.”
“This is just one of the many community projects the NFL is sponsoring throughout Central Florida as we prepare to host the first ever Pro Bowl to take place in Orlando," added Susan Groh, associate director for the NFL Environmental Program. “For the last 25 years, the NFL has strived to lighten its environmental impact by recycling material, planting trees and feeding the hungry. We hope our efforts here today inspires others to pay it forward and find ways to improve their neighborhoods.”
The project began in earnest with opening remarks by Patty Sheehan, Orlando City commissioner, District 4.
“I thank the Army Reserve Soldiers for their support,” said Sheehan. “They volunteered to serve our country and, like all volunteers, they will get back everything they give by ten-fold. Today, let’s follow their example as we enrich our lives by giving back to our community."
As soon as Sheehan stepped away from the podium, the NFL further demonstrated its commitment to ensure Orlando lived up to its “The City Beautiful” nickname when legendary quarterback Mark Brunell and running back Warrick Dunn addressed the diverse crowd.
“We are all here to support a worthy cause and save our environment,” said Brunell, whose 19-season career included throwing touchdown passes for the Green Bay Packers (1993-1994), Jacksonville Jaguars (1995-2003), Washington Redskins (2004-2007), New Orleans Saints (2008-2009) and New York Jets (2010-2011).
“The NFL’s best players have converged on Orlando not just to play a game. They and their families are working with local communities and the people who support our love for football to make this city a better place to live, work and play.”
Brunell also encouraged the younger volunteers to pursue their life-long goals and cherish the value of teamwork.
“My [childhood] dream was to play as quarterback for the NFL,” said Brunell. “As I grew older, I realized that, no matter how hard I worked, I would never fulfill that dream without the help from good people around me. Remember, success in life is not just about you. It’s about helping others so that you, too, may achieve your dream.”
Army Sgt. Maj. Marcus F. Alfred, S-4 (logistics) sergeant major, 641st Regional Sustainment Group, 143d ESC, shared Brunell’s sentiment.
“The children out here today are our future,” said Alfred, a native of Kissimmee, Fla. “By seeing Soldiers and professional athletes work with them, they will respect us even more.”
Bell also took Brunell’s words to heart by bringing his daughter to the event.
“I wanted her to experience first-hand what it means to give back,” said Bell as he drilled nails to connect a wooden, rectangular frame that would serve as a garden bed for tomato plants. “Brunell, Dunn, and the other volunteers here understand that we must depend on one another achieve our goals.”
As the Soldiers laid the last garden bed into place and raked the final pile of topsoil, Alfred and Brunell reflected on the values their respective organizations share.
"The fact that the NFL invited us to help promote cleaner, safer neighborhoods shows how far the Army Reserve has come in connecting with its local communities,” said Alfred. “We’re both here to teach, coach and mentor. It doesn’t matter if we planted one or 100 trees as long as we planted them together.”
“I hope everyone here has a greater understanding of the sacrifices our service members,” said Brunell. “The NFL and the military understand the value of teamwork and the importance of fulfilling your specific role. Neither the best players nor finest Soldiers can succeed without first helping their teammates become successful … The only difference is that one group plays a game, while the other plays for life-or-death.”