Growing Love at Ronald McDonald House New York

The Caregiver Community Garden Initiative

There's a beautiful plot of green space on the seventh-floor terrace of Ronald McDonald House New York (RMH-NY), high above the craziness and noise of the busy city below. This terrace is not only a garden; it's a sanctuary, a haven of peace, and a safe place built to super charge community spirit amongst families staying in the House. On the 7th floor terrace, a special project began recently called The Caregiver Community Garden Initiative.

At the heart of this flourishing project is Kenia, a passionate social worker from a tradition of family gardeners who has brought the joys and therapeutic benefits of gardening to the caregivers and families staying at RMH-NY.

The Seed of an Idea

Kenia's journey with the Caregiver Community Garden initiative began on her very first day at RMH-NY in August last year. She was on a tour of the House led by Chris, Senior Recruitment Coordinator and Kaite, Assistant Director of Family Support and Kenia’s immediate supervisor.  The tour was near its end when they arrived outside on the 7th floor terrace where the conversation quickly turned to all things green.


Kenia, who has gardening in her blood thanks to her Guatemalan heritage and her father's green thumb, was immediately intrigued. The idea took root when Kaite mentioned an old hydroponic system that had been donated and installed. Kenia, with her love for gardening, saw the potential and envisioned a functional garden that could serve both the caregivers and children of Ronald McDonald House New York.

Kenia with her newly-picked stringbeans.

From Seeds to Sprouts

Kenia's childhood saw many gardens and loved ones who loved to keep those gardens, especially her father. Growing up in a family originally from rural Guatemala, gardening was a way of life. Her father, a dedicated gardener, had turned their Long Island home into a mini orchard with peach, pear, and fig trees, along with a lush herb and flower garden. It was a tradition Kenia cherished and wanted to bring to RMH-NY when the opportunity presented itself.

Kenia Quote Corner:

“Gardening's a big thing in my family. My parents are from Guatemala, and so, like, in the rural, like, very rural area. So, my dad always gardened. We had a peach tree, a pear tree, a fig tree in my house. I had my own herb garden, and flower garden. We've always, I've always been outside planting gardens. Very traditional. This was nothing new for me."

The First Planting

The project officially kicked off with the first planting of seeds—literally. Kenia, along with the caregivers, planted everything from tomatoes and onions to basil and thyme. The herbs were pre-grown, but everything else the group started from scratch. The third-floor terrace served as the initial nursery, where the seeds sprouted before being transferred to the more sunlit seventh-floor terrace.

A Collective Effort

The seventh-floor terrace was chosen for its abundant sunlight and its perfect seclusion. Unlike the much busier third-floor terrace, this space offered a quieter, more controlled environment where any garden could thrive.

But Kenia didn't embark on this journey alone. The entire community at RMH-NY rallied behind her. Latifa, Operations Coordinator at RMH-NY, often took the initiative to water the plants when Kenia wasn't available. The caregivers, too, played a vital role, ensuring the plants were well-tended and even stepping in to water them.

Heather, another dedicated staff member, once found herself being gently corrected by a caregiver on the proper watering technique, highlighting just how invested everyone had become in the garden's success. The involvement of the caregivers wasn't just about the physical act of gardening; it was about fostering a sense of ownership and community.

Growing Basil, Growing Community, Growing Love


Kenia Quote Corner:

"I think part of it's because they wanted to see it grow, and I think we're all amazed at how big it's {the garden} gotten. I don't think we ever, I don't think anyone's ever expected it to be as big as it is, to be honest, me included, so it's been cool to watch it grow as much as it has."

Kenia's vision extended beyond just growing vegetables and herbs. She wanted the garden to address a pressing issue faced by many families at RMH-NY: food accessibility. For international families, fresh herbs and vegetables can be hard to come by. While the garden couldn't solve all their food accessibility issues, it provided a welcome supplement of fresh produce during their stay.

To make the garden truly inclusive, Kenia involved the caregivers in the decision-making process from the very beginning. Caregivers chose what to plant based on their preferences and cultural backgrounds. This collaborative approach not only made the garden more meaningful to the participants but also sparked conversations about different culinary traditions.

For instance, one caregiver from Guyana was eager to make curry squash, a dish from his home country, once the squash was ready for harvest.

A Curried Squash Conundrum

If one were to make curried squash like the Guyanese people, there is one very important thing you must know about the native cuisine:

FACT: A famed tradition from Indo-Guyana cuisine is seven curries. It is generally served in a water-lily leaf, and is served with rice and seven different curries, which are traditionally:

  • pumpkin
  • bagee (spinach)
  • catahar
  • potato/channa (chickpeas)
  • balange (eggplant)
  • edoe
  • dahl

Curried Squash in the making.

Curried squash might be a much simpler dish if made in Paris this summer for all the winning Olympians or at a family home in Ft. Worth, Texas, but at Ronald McDonald House New York, curried squash might just come seven different curried ways as traditionally created in Guyana.

Go on. Give in. Let your mouth water.

Therapeutic Benefits

The Caregiver Community Garden quickly became more than just a source of fresh produce. It turned into a therapeutic escape for the caregivers. After long days spent at the hospital or dealing with medical appointments, the garden offered a tranquil refuge where they could unwind and reconnect with a sense of normalcy. The seventh-floor terrace, with its lush greenery and panoramic views, felt worlds away from the chaos and stress of their daily lives.

Kenia Quote Corner

"I definitely think it builds community within the caregivers, and again, kind of going back to, it can be so therapeutic and I know sometimes the caregivers have been at the hospital at medical appointments all day and being able to come outside and do something that's not related to anything medical… and I know we're up, we're in the city but also it's kind of not in the city because we're so high, and there's flowers everywhere.  So, it really is an escape for them."

Kenia recalls how the caregivers would often express their gratitude, sharing how the garden reminds them of home. One international family found solace in the familiar act of gardening, with a child excitedly showing her mother the herbs she had planted. These moments of joy and normalcy are priceless, providing a much-needed emotional boost for families going through incredibly challenging times.

A Universal Language

Kenia's role as the international social worker at RMH-NY added another layer of significance to the garden project. Engaging with international families, many of whom faced language barriers, was a challenge she took head-on. Gardening, as Kenia discovered, was a universal language. It transcended words, allowing families from different backgrounds to connect through shared actions and experiences.

Kenia Quote Corner:

"I do have to say one of the other reasons why I created the group was... I'm the international social worker, and something that Kaite and I discussed was how to engage international families even when there’s a language barrier... gardening is kind of like a universal thing where at the end of the day, we can kind of communicate with our actions, and so we try to make it as inclusive as possible, so everyone can do it."

The garden became a space where everyone could participate, regardless of language. It was a place where Kenia's Spanish-speaking support group, as well as non-Spanish and non-English speakers, could all find common ground. This inclusivity was a cornerstone of the project's success, ensuring that no one felt left out.

Celebrating Success

The garden has surpassed everyone's expectations. The herbs—basil, thyme, oregano, and mint—thrived, while the vegetables continued to grow vigorously. Every Saturday, Kenia would harvest the herbs and distribute them to the families, a small but meaningful gesture that brought smiles and a sense of connection.

Recently, Kenia will pull the string beans from the garden as their time has come and they must now be eaten. Many other vegetables still have a way to go and will not be ripe and ready for picking until August.  But there is one guarantee, those caregivers will be there on a weekly basis owning the life of the garden and not only growing vegetables, but growing love and community all at once.


A Taste of Home

Kenia fondly remembers a particularly heartwarming moment when two children, eager to garden, planted on the third-floor terrace. One of them, an international child, was thrilled to do something she used to do with her father back home. The joy and pride on her face as she showed her mother the herbs, she had planted was a testament to the garden's impact.

Kenia Quote Corner:

"We also have seasonal changes in the garden, so we get to plant different things throughout the year. This keeps it exciting and gives everyone something to look forward to. The kids especially love it when they see new flowers or vegetables starting to grow. It's a little bit of normalcy in a very challenging time for them."

Looking Ahead

The success of the Caregiver Community Garden has inspired Kenia to dream even bigger dreams. She hopes to expand the garden, perhaps adding another raised bed to accommodate more herbs and vegetables. The goal is to make the garden a year-round source of fresh produce and a continuous source of comfort and normalcy for the families.

Simple Project, Your Gift, Profound Impact

The Caregiver Community Garden is a shining example of how small initiatives can have a profound impact on the lives of families at RMH-NY. It's a testament to the power of community, care, and the therapeutic benefits of gardening. But projects like this need extra support to fund it in the way that the caregivers need. By donating to RMH-NY, you can help fund initiatives like the Caregiver Community Garden, providing families with not just a place to stay, but a place to heal, connect, and grow.

When the 7th floor terrace was originally designed, words were engraved into the cement that would help our caregivers find that tranquility and peace.

Your donation can help ensure that RMH-NY continues to offer these vital programs and support systems to families in need. Together, we can cultivate more than just plants; we can cultivate hope, community, and resilience. Please consider donating today to be a part of this incredible journey.

Kenia Quote Corner:

"It's almost like a moment of peace for the caregivers, like I mentioned earlier. I think they really appreciate it because they go through so much stress, and this is something that can bring them a little bit of joy and relaxation. Even if it's just for a few minutes, it's something that's just for them."

Growing… Together

The Caregiver Community Garden at RMH-NY is more than just a collection of plants. It's a living, breathing symbol of hope and community. Through Kenia's dedication and the collective effort of the RMH-NY family, the garden has become a place filled with serenity, a source of fresh produce, and a therapeutic escape for caregivers. It's a reminder that even during hardship, growing love and community is not only possible, but necessary.

As Kenia continues to nurture the RMH-NY garden, she nurtures the spirits of everyone at the House. The Caregiver Community Garden gives power to nature, community, and love. And with your support, it can continue to flourish and bring joy to countless more families in the months and years to come.

Growing Love at Ronald McDonald House New York
The Caregiver Community Garden Initiative


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