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EAST NEW YORK, Brooklyn — A Brooklyn man living with disabilities helped start a community garden at his NYCHA development, and now, it’s become a safe haven and neighborhood jewel for kids in his community — especially during the pandemic. 

“Gloria and Maria’s Garden” at the Penn-Wortman Houses in East New York was first created four years ago.  Now, its flourishing. 

The lead gardener is 66-year-old Willie Echevarria.

“We made lemonade our of lemons,” he said. “Here we are proving you can grow anywhere.”

Echevarria started planting here with the help of his wife Elizabeth Figueroa; she said it’s because they felt the children in their community had few safe places outside to go. 

“They are here, they are safe from all the violence, shootings around our neighborhood. Right here, it’s calm and cool,” said Figueroa. 

In the next few months, the goal is to restart a food program, giving fruits and vegetables grown at the garden to the families who live in the development.

Echevarria said it’s important to pass on his love for gardening, so the community can grow together.

If you would like to donate or volunteer at the garden email