Gardening, learning and growing at Padua Center in Toledo - Toledo News Now, News, Weather, Sports, Toledo, OH

Gardening, learning and growing at Padua Center in Toledo

Hoeing with gusto! Hoeing with gusto!
Padua Center is off Nebraska Ave. in Toledo. Padua Center is off Nebraska Ave. in Toledo.
Sr. Ginny Welsh was asked by the Diocese of Toledo to open Padua Center. Sr. Ginny Welsh was asked by the Diocese of Toledo to open Padua Center.
Neighborhood children are a big help in keeping the garden growing. Neighborhood children are a big help in keeping the garden growing.

Photos and story by Kate Oatis

"I made cous cous from lettuce in the garden," Shelby says, eyes bright, ponytails glistening, hanging over straight shoulders onto a brown-and-flowered Jesus t- shirt.

A small boy picks up a big watering can, hauls it over to a patch of lettuce and slowly waters the plants, each for just about five seconds.

Two boys angle large shovels forward into rich, dark mulch, heaving it into a wheelbarrow.

"I'm helping," one boy says to the stranger at his side snapping pictures.

"We learn what will happen if we cooperate and what will happen if we don't," says 11-year-old Sara about Emerging Young Ladies, one of Padua Center's programs designed to teach girls about self-respect and being accountable.

Sara has, actually, distilled a week's worth of lessons into that one very succinct sentence.

Lucky children, really, to be living in this neighborhood off Nebraska Ave. in central Toledo, which, without the changes made by the people in the area with the help of Padua Center, was a little less attractive and organized than it is today.

Padua Center is the fruit of community organizing at its very best. In 2006, the Catholic Diocese of Toledo asked Sr. Virginia (Ginny) Welsh to start an outreach center at St. Anthony of Padua Church, which then came under the ministrations of St. Martin de Porres Parish, where Sister now serves as pastoral leader.

The mission, Sr. Ginny says, is to build up the neighborhood by empowering its residents through programs, education and community. The Center's vision says it all: A neighborhood free of commercial sex trafficking and drugs (use and supply), beautified by people actively engaged in community and self-growth.

And, pardon us for saying so, but Sr. Ginny could be leading Microsoft, considering her talent for mobilizing and organizing people. She won't talk about that, though, preferring instead to point to the folks she says are the real brains and brawn behind the effort to enliven the neighborhood: the residents, the kids, the families.

When we go outside, for example, to take a look at what Sr. Ginny calls the Edible Playable Fitness Ground (where children, make no mistake, do play) we see a woman walking by, plastic bag in hand. We walk over to her – a chain link fence between us – and Sr. Ginny asks her, Brenda Witcher, to comment on Padua Center. Turns out Brenda's on the Brighten Up Committee board.

"I really have enjoyed it – meeting people, seeing what we can do to brighten up our area," says Brenda, who mentions she's on her way to pick lettuce and weeds at the community garden. The Brighten Up Committee does pretty much what its name connotes: figures out ways to beautify the area.

And when we're in the Center, presumably to sit down and talk about the work being done there, up walks Alicia Smith, educational coordinator, who shares articulately, affectionately and very happily about the programming she's developed for the folks in the neighborhood.

From the start, Padua Center's vision has included four goals: To make the neighborhood safe, to educate children, to unite the community and to clean up the neighborhood.

Sr. Ginny continues to see her vision take shape. "Padua Center is about empowering the village. We want to do a Padua-Pickett pathway and renovate the whole street between the two. It would be a pathway to knowledge, education and the future."

For more information on Padua Center, contact Sr. Ginny Welsh at welshv@yahoo.com or 419-241-6465.

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