By Jan Robbins
For Wayne Hiroshima and Bill Lafferty, working as assistant gardeners in Golden Gate Park around plants, animals and birds, places them regularly in the life cycle. They discover how plants, animals, birds and humans are all interdependent on each other.
For Hiroshima and Lafferty, Fridays are happily spent working to keep the flora and fauna in Golden Gate Park in tip-top shape.
“Working on these gardens is like working on my house. When I garden, I feel like the area hugs me,” Lafferty said.
Along the Lincoln Way side of the park, in the Inner Sunset, Hiroshima and Lafferty, both in their mid-60s, have given their time for a collective total of 17 years to sustain a healthy park environment.
“The area on Fifth and Lincoln was overgrown and littered with discarded bottles and needles,” said Lafferty. “People were afraid to walk in that entrance.”
Hiroshima and Lafferty do whatever their managing gardener tells them to do. In this way, the park gets what it needs and they derive many benefits, feeling purposeful and proud.
“We are happy people can now walk in this area of the park, enjoying its beauty and using it as a picnic spot,” Hiroshima said.
Hiroshima thought about volunteering 10 years ago when his church encouraged congregants to give back to the community.
“I volunteer because I love the outdoors. I’m proud of this city and its parks,” he said.
Lafferty is a long-time friend of Hiroshima – and also a pickle ball player on the tennis courts in Golden Gate Park, not too far from where he gardens. He started volunteering seven years ago.
Over their tenure gardening in Golden Gate Park, Hiroshima and Lafferty have worked for a number of gardeners. They were somewhat skilled from working on their home gardens, but appreciated the on-the-job training.
“Volunteer work is needed in proportion to how many full-time positions they are short,” Lafferty explained.
Hiroshima and Lafferty do everything from pulling weeds, planting grass, pruning and watering. Once they become familiar with a designated area, they become observant caretakers. When Lafferty noticed a towering pine tree with a crack in one of its larger branches, and saw mushrooms growing 25 feet up the tree, which indicated dead wood, he took action.
“We cut the tree down before it could fall and hurt someone,” Lafferty said.
Both men get to know the birds of their areas, including hawks, ravens, a multitude of songbirds, like juncos and warblers, and the ducks and geese in the lakes that people love to feed. Once, they noticed a Great Horned Owl was not making a nest in its designated bird house so they moved the house further up the tree where the owl would feel safe.
Winter season presents a particularly fun time for Hiroshima and Lafferty – a great Charlie Brown Christmas story.
“We identify a tree – we pick the most pathetic one. – and put up ornaments we’ve collected. Some disappear, some new ones appear. It’s such a good feeling,” Lafferty said.
Both Hiroshima and Lafferty derive joy from their roles as assistant volunteer gardeners.
“I love when tourists come by and smile when they see us working. I tell them where to walk to get to the Academy of Sciences. It makes me feel good to be helpful,” Hiroshima said.
As he swept his arm across the park’s vista, Lafferty said, “I have pride in what we do. Our neighbors come by and razz us (as one neighbor flew by on a bicycle), all in good fun.”
The benefits of volunteering have been documented by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), a federal agency established in 1993, which runs volunteer programs like the Senior Corps. In its April, 2007, review of research, CNCS found that people who volunteer have greater functional ability and lower rates of depression and mortality than those who do not volunteer.
To inquire about volunteering as an assistant gardener with the SF Recreation and Park Department, go to the website at www.sfrecpark.org or call (415) 831-6330 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.