By Tony Khing
Staffers from the PG&E Academy, the utility’s skills training and development arm, volunteer for numerous community events throughout the year. That includes last Thursday (Aug. 14), when 16 Academy employees spent four hours tending to the gardens on San Francisco’s Alcatraz Island.
“I floated the idea to my team and they thought it was a great opportunity,” said Jon Faulk, PG&E director of enterprise systems training. “It was a team-building exercise. Everyone wanted to do some shovel-in-the-ground type of work.”
Since 2003, volunteers have visited the former federal penitentiary known as “The Rock” to preserve its historic Victorian cottage gardens. Tasks included weeding, pruning and planting. These gardens, which feature terraced cutting beds that reflect the tastes of various eras, were started by the families of the prison employees that lived on the island.
The Golden Gate National Parks Volunteer Program, along with three other organizations (including the National Park Service), manages this unique opportunity. On Wednesday and Friday mornings, pre-registered volunteers ranging from high school students to senior citizens, are ferried to Alcatraz. Added benefits of people volunteering their green thumbs include visiting areas not accessible to the public and experiencing the island’s tranquility before the tourists visit.
Gardening on Alcatraz also conjured up family memories for Faulk. His grandparents lived on the island as his grandfather, Ike Faulk, was a prison guard for 20 years. Faulk’s grandmother spent many hours tending to the gardens on the island which incarcerated some of America’s most notorious convicted criminals for 30 years.
“They would’ve been proud to see us restore what was such an important part of their lives,” said Jon Faulk. “I think it’s why they tended gardens, even after they left Alcatraz. It was their way of preserving that part of their lives.”
PG&E employees are well on their way to reaching a goal of 50,000 volunteer hours in 2014.
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