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Baldwinite’s Eagle Scout project beautifies the community garden

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Members of the Baldwin Civic Association, local residents and elected officials celebrated last Saturday as they unveiled the new gazebo and brick walkway in the Baldwin Community Garden, which was Baldwinite George Pittas’s Eagle Scout project.

Pittas, of Troop 568, reached out to the chairwoman of the civic association’s Beautification Committee, Rita Cavanagh, to ask if she needed any projects completed. Immediately thinking of the community garden, Cavanagh uttered, “A gazebo!”

Pittas received approval from Nassau County to build the gazebo, because the garden is on county property, and, “once that was done, we started fundraising through the selling of the bricks, and then we had to wait until we raised enough funds, and everything came together,” he said, adding that the gazebo was finished by the end of December last year.

Community members and elected officials bought bricks that displayed their names and any phrases they wished to be engraved on them, and the bricks were laid to form the walkway to the gazebo. Pittas and his team raised $10,000, he said.

The troop’s scoutmaster, Dr. Dean Cherpelis, also attended. The troop’s charter is held by the Greek Orthodox Cathedral St. Paul in Hempstead. Cherpelis said the main goal of completing an Eagle Scout project is demonstrating leadership and volunteerism.

“There were times when I wondered — all of us wondered — whether all of this would come to fruition,” Steven Greenfield, the civic association’s vice president, told Pittas, “but you never wavered. You stuck with it, and you produced the desired results. The gazebo and brick path is a tribute to your resilience and to your determination and talent.”

Greenfield also congratulated Cavanagh on the work she has done over the years to make the garden “such a special place.”

The day marked the sixth “birthday” of the garden, which features upcycled art (made from thrown-away materials), flowers, a vegetable garden, sensory stations, a grassy labyrinth and a variety of other art installments, mostly created by neighbors who volunteered their time and effort. Cavanagh said she plans to invite local musicians to perform in the space, and to allow yoga, tai chi and astronomy workshops, as well as new activities.

Cavanagh, who said she has been to the garden nearly every day since the beginning of May, said someone is always enjoying the garden, whether it’s families, grandparents with their grandchildren, people on their lunch breaks or teenagers.

“And of course, because of the lockdown,” she said, “I have to say there’s been more people — they just want to escape their homes and just get someplace different.” She invited anyone who has not already seen the garden to visit it.

“I’m floored by what the community has done with this garden,” County Executive Laura Curran, a Baldwinite, said at the celebration, remembering when Cavanagh came to her years ago with her plans. “This is a real resource, and in a time when community really needs to come together, this is such a valuable and rare thing. Plus it’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s quirky, and now, thanks to George and his hard work, we’ve got a beautiful gazebo.”

Elected officials and civic association members presented Pittas with certificates of appreciation.

“This is a jewel for anyone who doesn’t know about it,” County Legislator Debra Mulé said. “Any time someone completes an Eagle Scout project, it’s a true accomplishment. This is something that generations of people will be able to use, so congratulations.”

“This community garden, to me, just stands for so much,” State Assemblywoman Judy Griffin said. “It stands for this beautiful community in Baldwin; that Baldwin is a community that is always striving to be inclusive, to really make the community a better place and look at all that happens. Like Rita said, every time you come here, there’s something new.”

Before Cavanagh and Curran cut the ribbons adorning the gazebo and the brick path, civic association members and officials thanked Jimmy Gallagher, the bricklayer. Gallagher, of Freeport, performs masonry work, but is also a solo musician who performs at various restaurants and venues. He plans to perform at the Baldwin Community Garden in the future.

Gallagher said he used a rubber mallet to create the brick pathway. First he dug it out, then laid crushed stone, cement and sand, “so you could drive a truck on this thing.” To contact him, search Jimmy Gallagher Freeport on Facebook.

Cavanagh thanked him for working within a tight budget, and told attendees that there is space to purchase a few more bricks if anyone was interested in adding a name or a witty saying. She encouraged visitors to do so, especially because the civic group’s two big fundraisers — Oktoberfest and Eggstravaganza — were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.