Warming hearts

Two local projects featured on the pages of The Day in the past couple of weeks are deserving of note, because not only are they great examples of what can come from volunteer spirit, but also because they hold out the promise of spring as the region approaches the end of what has been a seemingly interminable winter.

Over at Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford, persistence has paid off with the opening of the Harkness estate's restored greenhouse. Once a prominent part of the historic mansion at the center of the state park; the former greenhouse was nothing but a rusted frame when the group Friends of Harkness set out 17 years ago to restore it.

With the $1 million restoration complete, half the money coming from the state and half raised by the Friends group, including from renting the Harkness mansion for weddings, volunteers are putting the greenhouse to good use.

Flowers, which will in warmer months adorn the estate's signature gardens, are getting their start there. Friends volunteers expect to be able to provide all the plantings using the greenhouse, and won't need to purchase plants. There are also plans to use the greenhouse for educational programs benefitting local students.

Meanwhile, at the historic Coogan Farm off Route 27 in Stonington, a different type of planting is planned. Maggie Jones, executive director of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, announced a wonderful new program that will provide fresh produce for local food distribution programs.

The nature center purchased 32 acres of the former farm to preserve it and develop a heritage center. The first major initiative will be the Giving Garden, with 2 acres set aside for vegetable gardens, divided into small plots and farmed by community volunteers. This project will provide nutritional, fresh local produce to the Gemma E. Moran United Way Food Center, which distributes to the needy 2.7 million pounds of food annually, distributed at 91 sites.

Funding includes a grant from the Robert G. Youngs Family Foundation, created in the memory of the master carpenter who worked for New London Public Schools. Mr. Youngs, who died in 2011, placed his assets in a trust to "benefit the people of the New London area."

As with the greenhouse, the Giving Garden will provide educational programming opportunities.

Both projects should warm hearts and serve as a sense of pride for our community.

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