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Community rallies behind 'We Got This' garden after equipment is stolen

"We discovered who the thief was, we invited him back for lunch."
We Got This Garden
Posted at 4:39 PM, Jun 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-30 19:46:17-04

MILWAUKEE — The 'We Got This' program has been around for nearly a decade, working to clean up the neighborhood, providing mentorship and teaching youth in the community about gardening.

Director Andre Lee Ellis opens the program's garden at 8 a.m. each day, and Monday was no different.

"When we entered the gate, we were just thinking of what to do for the day, so I said 'let's cut the grass,'" Ellis said about what started out like any other Monday.

Andre Lee Ellis with youth workers at We Got This garden

But when a garden manager went to go get the lawn mowers, they were gone. Ellis later discovered that someone had lifted up part of the fence and taken off with a lot of equipment.

"Much of our lawn care equipment was missing, to the tune of about $3,000," Ellis said. "We've been operating for 9 years. Next year will be 10 years of We Got This, and we've never had any form of vandalism that I can recall."

Ellis said he was angry at first, but that feeling soon faded away.

"This garden is for healing, for healing this community. We are not what people call us, we are what we tell people we are. We got this," Ellis said.

After posting about what happened on Facebook, the community showed up in a big way. By the next day, enough donations were made to replace what was lost and then some.

"I immediately went to thinking, what can we do with the overflow?" Ellis said of the donations. "We have a number of young men that have expressed interest in starting their own lawn care business, and so we're going to put packages of lawn care equipment together that they can maybe rent for a small fee."

And because the garden is all about growing and learning, Ellis kept the good going even further.

"We discovered who the thief was, we invited him back for lunch. We're not going to press charges, we're going to parent. Let's use that other P. We're not going to press, we're going to parent," Ellis said.

That attitude is what volunteers at the garden say Andre Lee Ellis is all about.

"Andre had the best solution: it's to forgive, and not really forget, but to grow," said volunteer Henry McGowan III.

And no matter who shows up at the garden, you can expect Ellis will be rooting for you.

"What the garden gives a lot of people is pride, peace and love to go just a little bit further, especially if they were thinking about giving up."

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