As 16 little girls filed into their new garden at SCO’s Jerome Hardeman Early Childhood Education Center in East Elmhurst, they likely had no idea that the mild-mannered gentleman who presided over their ribbon-cutting ceremony helped author one of the great stories in New York City history.
Former New York Ranger Adam Graves, one of the greatest stars on the 1994 Stanley Cup champion team, made his way out from Manhattan on Sept. 12 to represent the Garden of Dreams Foundation at the new educational garden that transformed an unused outdoor area into a green space to benefit the children who attend the center and enhance the community. The project is part of a larger STEM educational gardening initiative at SCO’s five early childhood centers in Queens and Brooklyn funded by the Garden of Dreams Foundation.
“I’d like to congratulate the kids here on what a wonderful job they’ve done working on these gardens, and like gardens, they are going to grow as well,” Graves said. “It’s an honor for us with the Garden of Dreams Foundation to be able to officially open this garden as well as four other local projects to help put smiles on kid’s faces.”
State Senator Jessica Ramos joined Graves and the girls as well as officials from SCO for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
“Every child deserves a place where they can follow their curiosity and learn about the world around them and every parent deserves the piece of mind that comes with having a nurturing learning environment for their children,” Ramos said. “I’m here not only as an elected official and a mom, but honestly as someone who really wants to see universal childcare happen. That’s been at the forefront of my work in the state senate.”
Ramos added that she always wonders why universal childcare is such a partisan issue.
“We all have children. We all want our children to be safe. We all want our children to have the upmost top-quality care. We know that investing in our children does wonders,” she said. “It all starts here in the garden of dreams where these kids are going to have the opportunity to literally get their hands dirty, but that will do wonders certainly for their brain development.”
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, himself a father of a young son, praised the initiative.
“Educational gardens are a great tool for fostering the development of children while also contributing to the beautification of neighborhoods,” Richards said. “The new garden at the Jerome Hardeman Early Childhood Education Center is a great example of this and is truly a wonderful addition to the East Elmhurst community.”
SCO Family of Services president and CEO Suzette Gordon joined the guests on a student-led tour of the garden and center following the ceremony.
“We are excited to unveil this wonderful new garden that will enhance our building and community and give our children hands-on experience planting and cultivating it,” Gordon said. “We’re grateful to the Garden of Dreams Foundation for giving the students at all of our Early Childhood Centers this opportunity and for their continued support.”
Beth Dukes, senior manager of Program Design and Implementation at Garden of Dreams, said the project is “near and dear” to the foundation’s heart as well as her own.
“In my former life, many many many years ago, I was a middle school science teacher,” Dukes said. “I saw at that time the importance of having young people in New York City get these experiences with science hands on. A lot of young people in New York City unfortunately don’t get these opportunities to really experience the scientific process and really delve into what it means to grow a living thing from a seed to a sprout.”
Nearly three decades after he scored a Rangers franchise record 52 goals during that magical 1993-94 championship season, raising the Stanley Cup and then riding up the Canyon of Heroes during a ticker-tape parade on a float with Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter and the rest of the squad, Graves couldn’t help but chuckle as he watched the girls show off their new green space in East Elmhurst.
“It all begins right here with these smiling little young faces,” Graves said. “These kids will never forget these days in the garden.”
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.