Soon after Mrs. Torres moved into her tiny, rundown house in the old section of town, she began to notice them. Oh no, she thought, just what I need—a couple of troublemakers.
She watched through her window as 10-year-olds Dante and Lana once again tore flowers from the stems in her yard. And once again, she yelled, “Stop doing that!” But nothing ever changed, and they continued to disregard people and property in the crime-ridden neighborhood.
One day, as they threw torn petals on the little patch of grass and weeds, Mrs. Torres went outside to confront them. “Do you know how long it takes a flower to grow?” she asked sternly. “Have you ever planted a garden?”
Dante and Lana had never given it much thought. Mrs. Torres hesitated for a moment, but then she heard herself asking whether they would like to help plant a garden in her yard. To her surprise, the troublemakers agreed to help her.
Newly divorced, Mrs. Torres was having a difficult time. She had started a new job, and she had put all of her money into this worn-out little house. She really couldn’t afford a garden, but she sensed that this was really important. She asked Dante and Lana to come back in the afternoon so they could get started.
Mrs. Torres bought several inexpensive plants and gave each of the children one plant that would be their very own. From now on, she explained, Dante and Lana would be responsible for their plants. She showed them how to dig the holes and set the plants in place.
Every day after that, the children would come by to work in the yard. They weeded, watered, and planted more flowers. They diligently took care of their own plants, but they also took pride in the rest of the little garden. Under their watchful eyes, the plants and flowers began to thrive. The tiny patch of ground in Mrs. Torres yard became a bright spot in their neighborhood.
Soon other children began to stop by and ask whether they could have their own plants, but there wasn’t any more space in her garden. Mrs. Torres decided to ask some of the neighbors whether they would allow her to teach the other kids how to plant flowers in their yards and learn to take care of them. Everyone had noticed the pretty garden Mrs. Torres had, so they readily agreed to let the children turn their forlorn dirt patches into something lovely to look at.
As word spread about these industrious children, adults began to lend a helping hand. Some donated plants and seeds from their own overgrown yards so that the kids could continue to learn and to beautify their spaces. An apartment manager offered to give them 50 trays of flowers for their gardens if they would help him clean up his property.
By the next spring, more than twenty children, who called themselves the Garden Gang, had transformed their depressed neighborhood into a place where people were proud to live. Under the vigilance of Dante, Lana, and their friends, trash and weeds were no longer part of the landscape. Together they would continue to transform trouble and ugliness into treasures and beauty.