Park People: Meet Dwayne

December 1 2019

Dwayne didn’t come to gardening in the way you’d expect; he didn’t grow up with a backyard or an elderly grandmother who took him to a community garden. But after taking a job in the NYC Parks Job Training Program (JTP) and being assigned to horticulture, Dwayne says he found his passion. “I never had any experience in a garden with flowers, trees and plants, but once I found it I couldn’t stay away.” Dwayne came to NYC Parks a little over 3 years ago, following his recovery from time in a coma. It was a traumatic experience that left him scarred, but yearning for a place to belong. He’s found that in NYC Parks and Washington Square Park.

After many years of hard work Dwayne received a promotion in summer 2019. It’s something he’s been striving towards, consciously or not, since he first transferred as a JTP to a seasonal City Parks Worker (CPW). As a CPW, Dwayne found himself volunteering to do extra tasks that would keep him in or near a garden. A supervisor took notice and gave him more horticulture assignments, sending him to work with gardeners across the city. A month before his seasonal job would end, Dwayne interviewed with George Vellonakis—Washington Square Park’s Administrator and Conservancy Executive Director until his retirement in 2020. George saw Dwayne’s passion, his dedication, his promise and brought him on board.

Once joining the WSP family, Dwayne set his sights forward and worked incredibly hard to prepare for his Gardener 1 interview, where he was quizzed on his knowledge of all things horticulture before being granted the certification. It usually takes many years, but surrounded by opportunities to learn every day, Dwayne had an edge. He takes every chance to learn from his fellow gardeners, and spends his free time studying up on plants and horticultural Latin so he can, “converse in the language of gardeners.” Now he’s an NYC Parks Gardner 1, with his position funded by the Conservancy. His sole purpose is to tend to Washington Square Park with the loving care that is so central to who he is. Whether he’s helping to plant the pollinator gardens at the four corner entrances or tending to the newly planted trees in Fountain Plaza, Dwayne spends his days engrossed in his garden.


 So what’s next for Gardener Dwayne? “I’m looking forward to learning to be more technical and honing the skills that I have. In gardening you have to develop an emotional, spiritual, instinctive connection to what you’re growing. It takes time, but the other people here who supervise me know I’m capable. They believe in me and that makes me believe in myself. Gardening is more than my job, it’s my life.”

Dwayne is just one of many staff members who have strived for career advancement at Washington Square Park. The Conservancy is proud to support upward mobility for all those showing dedication and aptitude. Since 2018, WSPC has helped promote 5 workers from NYC Park’s job training program to full-time positions at the Park thanks to the support of WSP donors.