A man built a garden in Harlem and the children in the neighborhood bloomed

Tony Hillery was living the high life, running a limousine company and wearing Prada suits, when the financial crisis of 2008 hit. He lost his business and lines of credit and felt like he was too old to start over.

He kept reading about underfunded schools with no art, gym, or music—a sharp contrast to the private schools his kids had attended. So one day, he decided to take the subway to Harlem to see what he could do.

"I couldn't have been more arrogant," Hillery told Humans of New York. "I walked through the doors of the first elementary school I could find, asked for the principal, and said: 'I'm here to try to break the cycle of poverty.' She assigned me to the lunchroom, and that's where I started volunteering five days a week."

Hillery talked to the kids at lunch and they gravitated toward him. They called him "Mr. Tony" and treated him like Santa Claus. Their goofiness reminded him of his own kids.

"So when I learned that almost half of them were living in homeless shelters, that shit drove me crazy," he said. "It tore me up. I was looking for some way to help—anything."


He spotted an abandoned community garden across the street—the kids called it the 'haunted garden'—and decided to clean it up. He got the paperwork processed through the Parks Department and spent six weeks hauling out all the junk. He had no idea what he was going to do with the space other than clean it up.

"Then one morning a little girl tugged on my shoulder. A tiny little thing with glasses so big," he said. "Her name was Nevaeh. 'Heaven' spelled backwards. And she said: 'Mr. Tony, why don't we plant something?'"


Hillery didn't know anything about gardening, but a Google search showed him that it was hard to mess up growing herbs. So he got a dump truck of organic soil, some clearance herbs at Home Depot, and invited Nevaeh's kindergarten class to come and plant the first seedlings.

"There wasn't much structure in the beginning," he said. "A lot of times I'd just sit around with the kids and look at clouds. But over time the garden became a sort of outdoor science classroom. All of us were learning together. If something died, we'd just try a new spot. We learned about worms, and ladybugs, and praying mantises. Then we learned about food systems. I couldn't help but notice the diets of these kids: all sugar and processed food. Some of them couldn't name a single vegetable. But how could you blame them? There are 55 fast food restaurants in this community, but not a single supermarket."

Hillery and the kids started growing vegetables, and a handful of kids got really involved and invested in the garden, including Nevaeh. She came to everything Hillery planned—camps, nature walks—and though she was quiet and reserved at first, she started taking ownership of the garden.

"Those became her plants, not mine," he said. "Whenever volunteers came to help with composting-- Nevaeh would take the lead. And if you were doing it wrong, she'd grab that rake right out of your hands." That was 10 years ago. Since then, Hillery has expanded from one garden to 12 urban farms throughout Harlem and created an entire youth-oriented growing organization called Harlem Grown. Kids throughout the community help plant and tend the crops, learning science and agricultural lessons with hands-on experience. Since it started, Harlem Grown has given 6,000 pounds of organic produce to the community for free. Even Nevaeh's mom has gotten involved, serving as the Agricultural Director of the farms.

But Hillery explained to Humans of New York that the point of Harlem Grown is not just to grow food, but to grow healthy children.

"When you sit in this garden on a summer day—you hear things. There are fourteen homeless shelters within a four-block radius. So when it's hot outside, and the windows are open, you can hear the stress of poverty. Sometimes mothers will yell at these kids like they're grown men. They'll call them names. They'll tell them: 'you can't,' and 'you won't.' And after awhile the kids start to believe it.

When they first come into this garden— they're so freakin' happy. Especially the really young ones. But at the end of the day, they'll say: 'I'm going home.' And home means shelter. It's an epidemic, man. 115,000 kids in this city are living in shelters. It's a freakin' epidemic. But it's invisible. You'd never know these kids are homeless, because they're so happy.

But something happens around 9, 10, 11. I see it all the time. Those eyes dim, man. It's just life. There's too much stress around here. And they grow up fast. They lose that light. I just want to slow it down, that's all. I want them to have a safe place where they can just be them. That's all any of us want, right? To slow it all down so we can find out who we are?"

Hillery said he arrogantly went to Harlem thinking he had the answers, that he was going to fix kids. But in the past ten years, he's learned that they didn't need to be fixed or to become like him—they needed to stay like their young and happy selves. He was 52 pounds heavier and depressed before Harlem Grown, living a life that was all about things and money. The kids have taught him he was doing it all wrong.

And Neveah? She's sixteen now and an honor roll student.

"Recently she had a C in math," Hillery told Humans of New York, "so I said: 'Let's find you a private tutor, I'll pay for it.' But she wouldn't let me. She grabbed the rake out of my hand. She said: 'No Mr. Tony, I got this myself.' And she got a 93 on that final.

She was the tiniest little thing when I met her. With glasses so big. But even back then she had everything she needed. It just required a little protection. And a little time. She just needed some space to grow."

Well done, Mr. Tony, tending to the hearts and minds of the children of Harlem and helping them bloom.

Hear more from Hillery about Harlem Grown here:

Harlem Grown www.youtube.com

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Often, parents of children with special needs struggle to find Halloween costumes that will accommodate medical equipment or provide a proper fit. And figuring out how to make one? Yikes.

There's good news; shopDisney has added new ensembles to their already impressive line of adaptive play costumes. And from 8/30 - 9/26, there's a 20% off sale for all costume and costume accessory orders of $75+ with code Spooky.

When looking for the right costume, kids with unique needs have a lot of extra factors to consider: wheelchair wheels get tangled up in too-long material, feeding tubes could get twisted the wrong way, and children with sensory processing disorders struggle with the wrong kind of fabric, seams, or tags. There are a lot of different obstacles that can come between a kid and the ability to wear the costume of their choice, which is why it's so awesome that more and more companies are recognizing the need for inclusive creations that make it easy for everyone to enjoy the magic of make-believe.

Created with inclusivity in mind, the adaptive line is designed to discreetly accommodate tubes or wires from the front or the back, with lots of stretch, extra length and roomier cut, and self-stick fabric closures to make getting dressed hassle-free. The online shop provides details on sizing and breaks down the magical elements of each outfit and accessory, taking the guesswork out of selecting the perfect costume for the whole family.

Your child will be able to defeat Emperor Zurg in comfort with the Buzz Lightyear costume featuring a discreet flap opening at the front for easy tube access, with self-stick fabric closure. There is also an opening at the rear for wheelchair-friendly wear, and longer-length inseams to accommodate seated guests. To infinity and beyond!

An added bonus: many of the costumes offer a coordinating wheelchair cover set to add a major boost of fun. Kids can give their ride a total makeover—all covers are made to fit standard size chairs with 24" wheels—to transform it into anything from The Mandalorian's Razor Crest ship to Cinderella's Coach. Some options even come equipped with sounds and lights!

From babies to adults and adaptive to the group, shopDisney's expansive variety of Halloween costumes and accessories are inclusive of all.

Don't forget about your furry companions! Everyone loves to see a costumed pet trotting around, regardless of the occasion. You can literally dress your four-legged friend to look like Sven from Frozen, which might not sound like something you need in your life but...you totally do. CUTENESS OVERLOAD.

This year has been tough for everyone, so when a child gets that look of unfettered joy that comes from finally getting to wear the costume of their dreams, it's extra rewarding. Don't wait until the last minute to start looking for the right ensemble!


*Upworthy may earn a portion of sales revenue from purchases made through affiliate links on our site.

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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Photo courtesy of Macy's
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Did you know that girls who are encouraged to discover and develop their strengths tend to be more likely to achieve their goals? It's true. The question, however, is how to encourage girls to develop self-confidence and grow up healthy, educated, and independent.

The answer lies in Girls Inc., a national nonprofit serving girls ages 5-18 in more than 350 cities across North America. Since first forming in 1864 to serve girls and young women who were experiencing upheaval in the aftermath of the Civil War, they've been on a mission to inspire girls to kick butt and step into leadership roles — today and in the future.

This is why Macy's has committed to partnering with Girls Inc. and making it easy to support their mission. In a national campaign running throughout September 2021, customers can round up their in-store purchases to the nearest dollar or donate online to support Girls Inc. and empower girls throughout the country.


Kaylin St. Victor, a senior at Brentwood High School in New York, is one of those girls. She became involved in the Long Island affiliate of Girls Inc. when she was in 9th grade, quickly becoming a role model for her peers.

Photo courtesy of Macy's

Within her first year in the organization, she bravely took on speaking opportunities and participated in several summer programs focused on advocacy, leadership, and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). "The women that I met each have a story that inspires me to become a better person than I was yesterday," said St. Victor. She credits her time at Girls Inc. with making her stronger and more comfortable in her own skin — confidence that directly translates to high achievement in education and the workforce.

In 2020, Macy's helped raise $1.3 million in support of their STEM and college and career readiness programming for more than 26,000 girls. In fact, according to a recent study, Girls Inc. girls are significantly more likely than their peers to enjoy math and science, to be interested in STEM careers, and to perform better on standardized math tests.

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