By Jeannette Cruz
GCU News Bureau
It was a sad day in October when Phoenix Fire Department Engine 15 arrived to find a school bus on fire in an empty lot adjacent to Bret R. Tarver Elementary School and Marc T. Atkinson Middle School.
First responders learned this was no ordinary bus. This was Gus the Garden Bus, a mobile garden designed to travel to campuses in the Cartwright Elementary School District and educate its 19,000 students about plant cycles, plant sciences and healthy eating.
That's when a Grand Canyon University alumnus, Phoenix Fire Captain Austin Moreland, sprung into action. He has created an outpouring of community support to create a new garden for students to learn about fresh fruits and vegetables, gardening practices and the importance of community.
“When I learned about the garden, the biggest issue was that we needed someone to move the project forward, and I decided to start reaching out to as many people as I could. Before long, we had built a team,” Moreland said.
The team – district members, community leaders, the city of Phoenix Fire and Police departments, and GCU College of Education faculty arrived Friday morning for the second phase of transforming an empty lot into a hopeful gathering place for the community to enjoy.
Volunteers built an outdoor stage, raised dozens of garden beds, planted trees and turned the garden into a recipe for success. They also re-created the garden bus.
Students walked through the garden to learn about several vegetables and to eat a few garden-grown vegetables. Others sat around Phoenix Fire Capt. Josh Segebarth and listened to him read Dr. Kimberly LaPrade’s book, “Thunder’s Vision,” a children’s book that follows Thunder, a curious little Lope struggling to find his purpose. To kick off “Read Across America Week,” COE donated 60 copies of the book.
While reading, Segebarth paused and said to the children, “I can already tell who wants to be a doctor.”
“You!” he said pointing to a child. He continued, “A doctor … a vet …. a lawyer!”
“I love seeing their smiles,” Segebarth said.
COE faculty member Crystal McCabe was among those volunteering Friday morning. It was an experience she said felt like “coming full circle.” She talked about her long relationship with the Cartwright School District, where she kicked off her first five years of teaching, and the need of the student population.
“This is where my passion was – working with kids who are more at-risk. For me, Cartwright put teaching into perspective – getting creative, meeting the student where they are and never giving up on them. To see that GCU shares that same passion of serving the at-risk communities of Phoenix is heartwarming.”
In the future, the goal is to build curriculum around the garden, said Moreland.
“Teachers can use it for their own leisure, plan activities. Other schools can come for field trips and teach right out of this garden,” Moreland said. “The bus will also hit the road again and continue to function as it was supposed to.”
Officer Sue Heimbigner, who has worked in the community for 22 years, said the best part is that Maryvale residents will see changes to a plot of land that has been empty for years.
“For a long time, people were asking about the tires that were laying around here and I realized the community was seeing this as they drove by,” said Heimbigner. “Now they will see this change and the kids will have something permanent to hold on to.”
Moreland added, “I view all of the children of this district as the future of our public safety and we are just trying to establish for them what it looks like to be involved in the community, to give back, to be kind and to be generous.”
Contact Jeannette Cruz at (602) 639-6631 or [email protected].