Sparking Ideas

TLC Gets a Little Dirty with Urban Habitat Chicago

Mother Nature must have really wanted TLC to volunteer with Urban Habitat Chicago on July 19. After some staff barely made it to Chicago due to weather related delays, we woke up to rain the morning of our volunteer project. Thankfully things cleared up and cooled off just in time for staff to work with Urban Habitat Chicago (UHC) – and work volunteers did indeed!

UHC is an organization committed to enabling Chicagoans to make direct environmental and social change through hands-on training in urban agriculture via city school programs and adult workshops. TLC joined UHC for a volunteer shift at their teaching farm, located at the Northside College Preparatory High School. Before UHC became involved, the land directly behind the school was a brownfield, meaning the soil had been contaminated, in this case by deicing salt that the city had previously stored on site. Along with students at Northside College Prep (dubbed the “Dirt Actualizers”), UHC volunteers have worked for nearly four years to transform the land into an urban garden space that’s not only beautiful, but also incredibly functional and sustainable too.

Before getting down to work, Executive Director Mike Repkin and his volunteer staff, including some current and former students, led TLC volunteers on a tour of the grounds. Staff members were completely floored by the ingenuity of UHC’s urban garden design and the dedication of their volunteers. UHC is committed to using recycled and found materials, so Mike explained how the organization constantly seeks unwanted materials from all over the city. For example, pieces of ground concrete are used as stones; stabs of city sidewalk become retaining walls; and unwanted brick are used to build seating for an outdoor classroom area. 

Enthusiasm from UHC volunteers about their work was absolutely contagious, so the orientation session made staff eager to get a little dirty for the cause. Everyone was assigned a project including helping to build the outdoor classroom area, removing the wooden border around recently poured pervious concrete, and wheeling woodchips about the garden. It was hard work, but Mike and his volunteers made it fun for everyone and staff left the experience inspired. 

West Coast Account Manager Lauren Gordon remarked, “I was really impressed by the sustainable practices utilized by UHC to create a beautiful landscape and garden that benefits both the campus and the local Chicago community. The UHC volunteers were so passionate about their work, and it was great to be able to contribute to their efforts!” 

Because the organization has a very small operating budget, our monetary contribution was especially well-received. Volunteer coordinator Lee Bouchard said, “I can’t even tell you how much of a difference your gift makes for us and the people we serve – we stretch our dollars a LOT at UHC.”

To see more photos, check out our Year of Service photo albums here: For more information about volunteer opportunities with Urban Habitat Chicago, or to make a gift, contact Lee Bouchard at

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