They were once just empty lots on the city’s south side where houses used to stand.
While some may have seen urban emptiness, Diane Washington saw opportunity.
“We’ve had so many people stop by and tell us that it really looks nice and they appreciate us being here. It’s very gratifying,” Washington said.
Instead of weeds, tall grass and trash, hope now grows on the two vacant lots at the corner of Maple Avenue and Rockwell Street in the form of flowers, plants and vegetables.
“We are using this for community and neighborhood revitalization, focusing on making beautiful spaces for our community, including youth development, nutrition, gardening, and all those types of things,” Washington said.
Washington is the founder and executive director of YPOP, which stands for Young People of Purpose.
She says their goal is to empower youth to succeed through quality educational programming and creative opportunities.
YPOP is comprised of local youth from Kindergarten to 12th grade that participate in free summer and after school programming.
Special educational sessions are also offered for adults and youth.
Over the past two years, a big part of YPOP’s programs have centered around working in gardens on the empty lots.
Washington says while kids are learning hands-on skills through gardening and growing vegetables, she also hopes life lessons will sprout from the lots.
“I want them to learn to appreciate their environment and appreciate something they’ve been a part of and taking ownership over something they’ve done,” Washington said.
Earlier this year, YPOP finalized the purchases of the vacant lots from the City of Jackson.
“We appreciate the City of Jackson for allowing the residents to use these lots for wonderful purposes,” Washington said.
With vacant lots dotting Jackson’s landscape, Washington is satisfied her group is doing something positive for the city, and hopes this positivity will spread to other neighborhoods.
“I believe it does make the city better, and it has made the city better. It’s kind of contagious too. When people see something, that might inspire somebody else to do something, and add to their property. We want to make our community better,” Washington said.
Washington says YPOP is currently focused on these two lots, but could spread the joy to other vacant lots in the future.
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