If you’ve known Compass for any length of time, you’re familiar with a big-hearted team that loves giving back to the community. From Habitat for Humanity and kNOT Today to One80 Recovery Resources, and more, donating our time, services, talents, and money is an important part of the Compass culture.

So when a new charitable opportunity emerged to honor a man’s legacy and create long-lasting impact, it was a no-brainer for us. That’s why we can’t wait to share about our latest project, the Learning Garden at Washington Woods Elementary School (WWES) in Westfield. 

Like many opportunities in life, the Learning Garden started with an impromptu encounter at just the right time. While attending a dads’ group at my kids’ elementary school, I started up a conversation with WWES Principal, Tom Hakim. 

In Fall 2019, Tom was approached by Brian Virgona, whose twin boys attend WWES. Tragically, Brian’s brother, Michael, had unexpectedly passed away. Wishing to preserve his memory, Brian and his family wanted to do something for the school in Michael’s honor. 

“As a landscape architect, Michael was very passionate about creating beautiful spaces for his clients but also for himself,” Brian said. “He had an extensive home vegetable garden that fueled his love of cooking. We felt that creating a Learning Garden at WWES was the perfect way to establish and continue a long lasting legacy.”

When I heard about the Learning Garden, I knew this could make a great community project for Compass to turn from dream to reality. Construction started in the spring and is expected to wrap up mid-summer. Students will be able to start exploring and learning (and get their hands dirty!) when school starts back up in the fall.

The Compass team has been pouring heart and soul into this work, but we’re not going at it alone. A number of excellent subcontractors like Poindexter Excavating and M&C Concrete, and one of Michael’s former landscape architect classmates, Lauren, have lent in-kind donations of time, talent, and labor to make this worthy project happen. 

Located in the school courtyard, the garden is almost an acre in size. Gravel paths will lead to raised beds for elementary students to learn about gardening, science, nature, food, and cooking. Pergolas and benches will provide extra seating for outdoor classroom experiences. An additional entrance from the school’s media center into the garden is also being constructed. Flowers will bring pops of color and beauty to the area.

“When I first brought this project up,” said principal Tom Hakim, “I was only picturing a few raised planters, that’s it. The Compass team has rallied so many other partners and has gone above and beyond in such a special way.”

After completion, the garden will be a curricular component for every child learning at WWES through their STEM and Innovation classes. Tom envisions not only classroom learning but also after-school gardening and farm-to-table cooking clubs. 

“Compass has been amazing to work with throughout this project,” Brian shared. “We may have brought the concept to the table, but they have been able to bring it all to life. My family has found peace and healing through the course of building this symbolic and physical representation of Michael’s life.” 

As a team, Compass has been thrilled to come alongside the Virgona family and WWES to create a beautiful space that honors a life and will impact thousands of local schoolchildren. Giving back to the community never gets old, and we look forward to finding more ways to lend a helping hand.