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Saturday, February 24, 2024

Green Solutions in South Phoenix

By PhD. Donna Jagielski 


South Phoenix has experienced a significant transformation over the last several years. Light rail construction and the regentrification of many housing areas have contributed to a stronger economy in the area. However, with new development comes more concrete, hotter temperatures, and often, more air pollution. One local non-profit is working to address this challenge and is bringing more green space — and green opportunities — to the South Phoenix community. 

TigerMountain Foundation’s CEO Darren Chapman has provided opportunities for residents of South Phoenix communities not only to learn about healthy food sources, but also to plant, maintain, and benefit from them for nearly 18 years. Teaching marginalized populations about healthy food sources allows the community to gain independence in food choices that become sustainable for the long term. Additionally, placing edible food sources in the community provides planting and maintenance opportunities, allowing individuals to develop skills that become imperative to their success. Not surprisingly, beautification of once abandoned, dilapidated areas can also alter how community members interact with each other in such environments. Rundown areas that once bred negative exchanges are transformed into community garden spaces, fostering collaboration and joy as residents come together to nurture plants and trees and to learn about nutritious eating. 

TigerMountain also collaborates with larger entities such as the Maricopa County Department of Public Health to increase access to fresh food sources, in addition to creating  green jobs and cooler spaces. A partnership with the City of Phoenix has provided over 100 backyard gardens to local families. Finally, on a national scale, TigerMountain also partners with American Forests to close the tree equity gap in South Phoenix and to develop strategies to provide employment opportunities as part of community reentry programs. 

Yet the struggle to support the community with this work doesn’t come without challenges. Similar to the analogy of “big box retailers” versus independent business owners, smaller nonprofits compete for the same dollars as national organizations. Typically, larger organizations more easily acquire funding because they are viewed to have achieved a strong foundational base. This poses a challenge for small nonprofits and creates a need to partner with larger ones to obtain support in achieving their purpose-driven work. This value-added model becomes a balancing act to gain greater visibility, funding, and credibility. Smaller nonprofits need to maintain a well-defined identity in the community, so as to not be overshadowed by their larger counterparts.

TigerMountain views these challenges as opportunities to grow, expand, and continue to serve the South Phoenix community. During this next phase of expansion, Chapman hopes that smaller nonprofits will be provided the same fair opportunities that the larger nonprofits organizations receive. Smaller organizations such as TigerMountain demonstrate many advantages. Grassroots organizations exude “positive co-dependency” since they are hyper-focused on their own community, Chapman states. Diversity is their strength, and it reflects how the community itself has evolved. 

When providing green education and job opportunities as part of reentry programs, TigerMountain focuses on the time, effort, and patience needed for individuals to reacclimate to freedom and independence. Much of the nonprofit’s leadership consists of individuals “detoured by particular circumstances.” Providing a format, structure, and schedule to individuals with guidance on how to make individual choices based on their green interests is a priority. 

With organizations like TigerMountain advocating for marginalized populations in Arizona, beautiful positive development is happening across a number of communities. South Phoenix is on a path to becoming a thriving, self-sufficient green community — and with the correct care and tending, growth is happening and the roots are strong. 



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