The smell of freshly tilled soil filled the air over as volunteers descended on the historic site Saturday to clean the grounds and give the building a new lease on life.
The Community Clean-Up Day is part of a movement by Jen’s Community at Wildcliff to turn the site into an education center and pre-school that will teach children the wonders of nature and the importance of sustainability.
“I came here and had hours of peace and clarity in a scary world. I could come and pet a goat or learn about the environment. That is what we want to give to our children. A place were we combine nature and learning,” said Marie Inzinna, co-founder of Jen’s Community at Wildcliff.
Inzinna wants to return the manor to its original mission as laid out by former owner Clara Prince. Prince donated the land and center to the City of New Rochelle in the 1940s to give children a place to connect and learn about nature.
“The experience this center will give children will let them get a toolbox for life,” noted Inzinna.
But before the center can be transformed the grounds had to be given some tender attention. Inzinna and the rest of the members of the group rose early to attack stubborn weeds and rake husks from the once lush grounds.
The prospect of getting her hands dirty and enjoying a day in nature proved irresistible to Elizabeth Maitland of Bronxville. Maitland comes from a family of avid hikers and the chance to escape her apartment to give back to the community was a key factor for her.
“Touching the earth really grounds you,” said Maitland. “We live in a concrete society. So when you can roll up your sleeves and give back it makes you feel good.”
The watchful eye of Leonard Pouder of in New Rochelle aided the volunteers. He was there to provide the right tool for the job or even tell volunteers the best way to attack a problem weed or root.
Hungry volunteers were greeted in the morning by coffee and bananas donated by and lunch provided by . Elysa Hammond, a New Rochelle resident and chief ecologist for Clif Bars, donated energy bars to keep the spirits of the volunteers and their bodies full of energy.
“I’m ecstatic at the turn out and the hard work they are doing. We want Wildcliff to be a place for all ages,” Inzinna said. “We are planting seed in the ground. But we are also planting the seeds of conviction in the heart of people.”