BY: ALEX WEAVER
Nestled alongside a SEPTA Rail line in North Philadelphia on a lot that used to belong to an abandoned factory, sits a garden. Life Do Grow radiates a feeling of peace and comfort, only interrupted by the occasional train. A staff team of six, operating under the name “Philadelphia Urban Creators,” has worked years to turn the empty space into what it is today.
Coming off the final stretch of winter, nothing is currently growing, but that soon will change as the warmer spring weather approaches.
According to Director of Operations Sonia Galiber, the name “Life Do Grow” comes from the fact that life can indeed grow in such infertile land.
“The assumption is that life can’t grow,” Galiber said. “You come here and you’re like ‘Wow! This can exist here.’ It totally changes the assumptions that you have. It’s the idea of possibility and potential.”
Devon Bailey, the Site and Development Coordinator, believes the garden can change a person’s attitude.
“This is a place where, when you walk through those gates, you can feel the positive energy,” Bailey said. “Even if when you came, you were negative about it, by the time you leave you should be ok. Me personally, I go through these moments sometimes twice a week. But as long as I come, I vent, by the time I leave I feel good, I want to hug everybody.”
Philadelphia Urban Creators’ impact stretches further than the positivity of the Life Do Grow garden. The organization manages a smaller community garden up the street, which local residents care for. They are contracted by schools and other organizations for assistance in tasks such as constructing a garden box or a greenhouse, in addition to hosting community events like farmer’s markets and a music festivals.
Philadelphia Urban Creators has also created a pilot program called “Regeneration.” For six months, the organization works with 15 individuals from the immediate neighborhood who have a criminal record. Not everyone makes it through the program, but those who do come out with valuable life skills and connections that can be used for future endeavors.
The program is run by a collection of individuals with various backgrounds. Neighborhood residents, Philadelphia residents, Temple University students, and those who have experience with crime all work together.
“That mix is a big strength of our organization,” Galiber said. “ Having people who also have experience with incarceration is really important in the success of that program. There are a lot of people who have no idea what it means to be through the justice system who are working in positions of management and influence, who are working with people that they can’t relate to.”
Galiber and Bailey come from two different backgrounds. While Bailey was born and raised in Philadelphia, Galiber didn’t come to the city until attending Temple University, graduating three years ago with a Bachelor of Arts in political science and Chinese. While attending Temple, Galiber was involved with Temple Student Government, where she wanted to fix the relationship between Temple and the community. That pursuit lead her to Life Do Grow, where she met Bailey and the rest of its team members.
“I heard so much about this space being a positive space for students to experience North Philly in a way that would just shatter all the stuff we’re told: ‘Don’t leave campus, don’t leave campus,’” Galiber said.
While Galiber has only been part of the neighborhood for about seven years, Bailey’s house, which can be seen from the garden, has been in his family for about 50 years. Bailey spent his youth engaging in illegal activity, but he has since changed his life’s direction through joining Philadelphia Urban Creators.
“I’m an ex-corner boy; I used to sell drugs and do all kinds of dirt,” Bailey said. “ I woke up one day and decided I wanted something different. It took a little bit of time, but being straight up with myself and straight up with God, he kind of took all of the dumb stuff out of my life and put these guys in my life. If you would’ve met me seven years ago, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”