Volunteer Spotlight: Franco Guerra

Franco and his dog Beaux keep Wacouta Commons Park beautiful and improve park safety.

How did you get started gardening in the park?

I’m a lifetime gardener, so when Kay Clover from Friends of Wacouta Commons Park asked me to help out, I jumped right in. I went from tending a small area to one whole corner, to another corner, to adding more garden space in each corner. I’ve turned what I think of as the park entrance garden into a native pollinator garden to help all the bees and wasps. Having more pollinators in the park has been helping all the garden beds. I expanded what I think of as the “back door” corner at the other end of the park and the corner at the playground entrance.

Ever since I was a little kid, I always want to be helping green things grow. I was starting plants in coffee cans on the windowsill. Later I ran an avocado Ranch in California. I’ve always loved plants and just kept learning more and more. Suddenly I was landscaping for friends and then other clients.

You garden in the evenings and at night, along with your dogs. Beaux has gotten a special reputation in the neighborhood. Tell us more.

I need to work at night to avoid sun exposure to protect my skin. Until I retired, I mostly worked night shifts, so that feels natural. Beaux has been going to the park with me every day since he was 8 weeks old. He knows everyone. Now he’s 227 lbs and he guards me while I work. He’s wonderful with children and he has a great sense of love. A little kid he doesn’t know will run up to him and he just drops to the ground.

I also have a little 14-lb dog named Gus. He doesn’t scare anyone because he’s so small, but he will bark when he sees someone who makes him nervous. That brings Beaux over to check out the situation.

At night when we do our rounds in the park Beaux becomes a total watch dog. By day he’s Beethoven by night he’s Kujo!

Park safety relies so much on neighbors like you who keep a sharp eye out and know when something isn’t right and should be reported. What has changed in the park while you’ve been involved?

Folks have started to have picnics there now with kids playing in the playground because they feel safer. There are many kind homeless people around downtown. I’ve made up a pamphlet about available services that I hand to people in need. But there are also folks up to no good. They used to shoot up in the park – right in the playground! Beaux knows all the nooks and crannies where people hide. If we see something illegal going on, I call the police and people just drop their dope and run away when they see the big dog.

I used to find a syringe in the park every day. Since Beaux and I have been gardening at night and patrolling the park, I’ve gone one month and 6 days without seeing a single syringe.

What is most rewarding about your work in the park?

It’s definitely just not me that works in the park – it takes a village because everybody does their best. As much as I put into it the park, I get back even more from it. Doing all this work in the park and creating community with the neighbors has helped my mental outlook so much I’ve been able to stop taking anti-depressants.

Yesterday I was in the park pulling weeds and a woman came up to me with her brand new puppy who was 12 weeks old to thank me for the job I was doing. I had never met her before. I asked, “how did you know the job I was doing?” Her response was priceless. She said she had heard of “some guy with a beautiful Saint Bernard that has made the park safe and fun to be in” and she just wanted to thank me. She said she walks three extra blocks just to get to the park because the space makes her feel the freedom of days gone by.

What are your other favorite parks?

The dogs and I visit a lot of parks. We walk a minimum of 5 miles/day. Rice Park is a favorite – the gardens there are so beautiful.