Oakley: O’Hara Park Middle School Celebrates Shared Garden Grand Opening



Thanks to a chance meeting at a local gym a few months ago, O’Hara Park Middle School now has a shared garden for the special needs students at the school.

During the chance meeting,  Bill Horn of Terra Care Associates and Melissa Mastrangelo talked plants which resulted in a brand new shared garden at O’Hara Park Middle School. The garden will be implemented as part of the schools out-door classroom for special needs students to plant and maintain the garden.

On the morning of August  23, the school hosted a grand opening where special needs students and Terra Care showcased their work.  The garden took two-months of planning and was completed in about four-weekends at a cost of just over $10,000 according to Terra Care’s Bill Horn.

“This isn’t a new concept, this has been part of our culture for a while. We like to give back to the communities we work with and partner with so we started doing this concept about 5-years ago. This particular garden came about by chance by meeting with Melissa,” said Horn.

Horn explained the chance meeting and how a single bucket of flowers got this whole process started.

“She had a bucket full of iris and we got talking about plants. One thing led to another. She explained they had a small garden and asked if I would come check it out and give us some idea and I did. It really was just two little boxes. I saw this area which was a huge brush area that was an absolute mess. I said to her and Ms. Creswell what do you think of us doing a teaching garden in this unused space. They were like wow, are you kidding me?” explained Horn.

Horn said he would design and donate it to the community and would help the school maintain it for a year to help the kids.

“Bring me in to help educate them about the plants,” said Horn. “The whole idea about this is a movement going on nationwide to get kids outside again and involved with nature much like when I was a kid when we were out from 7 am to 7 at night. “

O’Hara Park Principal Colleen Creswell gave credit to Melissa and Bill Horn for making this happen and shared her excitement of the garden.

“Melissa started a life skills gardening program where this used to be a little hole with a couple boards. She met Bill Horn and he talked about how he liked to give back to the community. Low and beyond he showed us a plan and over four weeks in the summer it was done,” explained Creswell. “We were so pleasantly surprised with the wheel chair accessible special needs garden. Now school has started back and we came and kids are planting plants and excited.”

Creswell says the garden is now considered their outdoor classroom with science and health classrooms.  They have plans to expand learning opportunities as the garden grows.  The whole area is an outdoor classroom with the garden being the “crown jewel”

“I am so thrilled, I love it when we can bring to the school another level of education that is a bit more real and duplicate real life, this is real life,” said Creswell.

Horn states the future of gardening is sustainable and getting away from unused area. We want to create meaningful turf that can be used for purposes. We are trying to talk to people about conserving water and convert places to drip irrigation and less maintenance and doing gardens organically. Horns goal is to unused turn turf into use to something giving back to people.

“Seeing the kids was really exciting. I’ve been to grand openings but never one where we had the kids so excited to see something like this and the fact that they were so interested in it, I think they really want to do this and really want to learn. It’s going to take companies and people on their own to  do things like this to get their kids back interested in things like this.

Mayor Kevin Romick was impressed with the garden and how far it’s come.

“To come in today (Friday) and see the transformation of the area is incredible. This is great for Oakley and can be a model for future schools,” said Mayor Romick.

According to Horn, this has been Terra Cares biggest garden to date that had been donated and was pleased with the outcome and  happy to have the relationships to make this possible.

“This garden is really a part of our culture and has been for several years. We have enjoyed for the past several years a partnership with the City of Oakley.  This is our way to help communities that we work and live to give back something in return for what they give us as a company. The way this happened was by chance by meeting Melissa at a gym we were at,” explained Horn. “The idea here is to take unused land and create a usable piece of property that is sustainable. This is all drip irrigation and will be maintain it organically and will provide maintenance for the next year to transition slowly to the school. It’s been a wonderful process and we look forward to working with the kids. We want the kids to be able to get back outside and get in touch with nature.

Student assistant Allison Gaul was amazed at the garden and was happy to see the special needs kids so excited.

“It’s really cool. I am so glad that they are experience things outdoor. Its more than taking walks, it’s much more interesting. Its fun that they get to plant stuff. I like gardening and used to garden when I was little, said Gual. “I think they are more interested in this area because they can walk around the garden and plant stuff.”

Terra Care will maintain the garden for a year to ensure the garden remains sustainable before handing it over to the school. The garden is tied into a drip system to ensure it remains watered.

The photographs below are from our July 6 visit when Terra Care began creating the garden as well as Fridays grand opening.