UW Graduate School

Tending gardens, growing community:
GO-MAP’s sixth annual MLK Day of Service

GO-MAP students shovel mulch

GO-MAP graduate students take a rest while shoveling mulch at the Danny Woo Community Garden. 

With a shovel stuck deep into a pile of mulch, surrounded by friends, peers, and stunning views of South Seattle, Ishmael Nunez reflected on GO-MAP’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at the Danny Woo Community Garden. “It’s great to be out here doing things for other people, and doing them with a community that shares the same values,” he said.

Ishmael was one of roughly 30 graduate students of color who made the sixth annual MLK Day of Service a success for their peers and for the community. The day of service, in partnership with United Way, was organized in large part by GO-MAP’s Graduate Student Advisory Board. The Garden is approximately 1.5 acres and contains nearly 100 plots that are cultivated and cared for by elderly Asian immigrant residents of the neighborhood. The focus of the day was to make the sloping, scenic garden in the Chinatown-International District more accessible for the elderly folks who tend the plots.

When the graduate students gathered at the Garden Monday morning, they were handed trash-pickers, gloves and large bags. They formed teams and were told to scour the grounds for refuse. In less than an hour, they had collected roughly a dozen bags of garbage.

Graduate student feeds chickens

Yoli Ngandali, GSAB member and MLK Day of Service co-leader, took a break from her studies to “Stick with Love.”

After clearing the area of trash, they turned their attention to improving the walkways of the garden. Some weeded, while others hauled mulch, and still others raked the mulch over the pathways. The mulch served to prevent erosion and to keep the pathways from getting muddy: especially important on the sloping land, where gardeners could slip and fall.

The work of the GO-MAP students helped “create an atmosphere of purpose and functionality in the garden that further welcomes and motivates guests and gardeners,” said Connor Beck, a staff member with the Community Garden. This means “more elders in the area have access to physical, emotional, and mental health and well-being,” he said.

It was strenuous work, but the students made light of it: chatting and joking all the while. They talked about their studies, their hometowns, and their hobbies. For students like Jian Zheng, a master’s student in Human-Centered Design and Engineering who works in UX Research during the day, it was a great way to connect with the GO-MAP community for the first time.

Students shoveling mulch

Jian Zheng, left, and Ishmael Nunez shovel mulch at the Danny Woo Garden as part of GO-MAP’s MLK Day of Service.

“I’ve met people from all over the country, and everyone’s been really friendly,” she said.  “There’s nothing like bonding over trash,” she added with a laugh.

For others who had participated in GO-MAP social events before, it was a time to reconnect with acquaintances and expand their GO-MAP community. All said it was particularly meaningful to spend MLK Day giving back to community, surrounded by friends and peers who share their values.

Carisa Flournoy, a first-year graduate student in Museology, said GO-MAP has helped her become acclimated to Seattle and to her program.

For Carisa, the day of service was an opportunity to “remind myself that there are a lot of different kinds of people, diverse people, who are interested in making the world a better place,” she said. “And it feeds me, it nourishes me, especially on this day, to be with so many different kinds of people and doing this work.”