On Aug. 13, the Blue Jackets partnered with Keep Columbus Beautiful and Republic Services to help beautify a garden and the area around the Tray Lee Center in the historic American Addition neighborhood in North Central Columbus.
But more specifically, these groups were coming to the aid of Marie Moreland, a lifelong resident of the community who has been in charge of the Center for over 15 years.
It’s impossible to talk about the American Addition, one of the oldest African-American neighborhoods in the city, without mentioning Moreland. She has poured an immeasurable amount of her time and energy into overseeing the Center, a building that serves as a space for local children to play and learn. Supported solely by donations, it is equipped with computers, art supplies and various other resources to help provide productive after school and summer programming for these children.
However, what is equally impressive is the garden outside the Center that Moreland helped build, literally from the ground up. Moreland said she picked up her passion for gardening from her grandfather, who owned a farm nearby and taught her the value of self-reliance.
“I grew up with an outhouse and a coal stove and that didn’t matter to me – there’s always a way that you can do different things that will make you feel wonderful as anyone else,” Moreland said. “People talked about how people were poor out here, but I didn’t think about it that way. We never went hungry. [My grandfather’s farm] taught me to be a survivor, and I would like to say that’s what I am.”
The American Addition has come a long way in the last 50 years, and Moreland has had her fingers all over the neighborhood’s dramatic transformation from an area that was once neglected by city services into a thriving subdivision.
Ty Pennington of Extreme Home Makeover once paid the Tray Lee Center a visit, and since 2010, the city of Columbus has poured over $10 million into infrastructural improvements and general upkeep within the neighborhood. Keep Columbus Beautiful project manager Sherri Palmer said this is largely thanks to the Moreland’s reach and impact.
“Someone on my staff actually calls her ‘mom.’ He says ‘that’s my mom,’ because that’s how she is,” Palmer said. “Anybody in this community who knows her loves her. She’s just one of those people. You always want to do things for people who are doing things for the right reasons, not for themselves, but for others, and they care very much about the quality of life that the residents they surround themselves with have.”
For Moreland, however, the city’s willingness to help out in her community can be attributed to something much simpler.
“What it boils down to in many ways is this: the love and kindness that you give, you will get it back. It’s just been remarkable,” she said.
But for as much of an impact as Moreland has had, it hasn’t always been easy for her, especially recently. A couple of deaths in her family have made it hard for her to keep up with her impressive garden, and prior to Saturday, it was in need of a bit of a facelift. Weeds had started to grow, some flowers needed to be replaced, litter needed to be picked up, and several wood structures needed to be painted or repaired.
Volunteers from the Blue Jackets - including staff, season ticket holders and their families - were up to all of those tasks and more. When they were done, the team presented Moreland with a signed jersey, which now sits inside the Center along with dozens of pictures taken from that morning that Moreland is eager to share stories about.
“There are really no words that I can describe it with, because we had so many different people come out,” Moreland said. “And then the Blue Jackets brought over 100 individuals? I just had to go to the side for the minute and let my tears out. Everyone was so wonderful. It was just a beautiful group of individuals that really cared. And they’ve done so much work, just the difference in that garden in a couple hours - it shows that different things can be done.”
From the garden needing work to rain in the forecast holding off until after that work was done, some of Moreland's prayers, it appears, were answered.
“I had prayed that we’d get some help in that garden, because it was a very big job,” Moreland said. “It was simply awesome. I couldn’t believe all they work they’d done, and everyone was so nice. It’s been a true blessing.”