With the help of Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, a forest of food is providing education and dreams for a Fort Myers neighborhood once torn by crime.

The Community Garden has taken root inside Pine Manor. It is alive with volunteers, vegetables and an education program, which teaches people the necessary culinary skills to go to work. The garden boxes are full of vegetables like collard greens, lettuce, kale, tomatoes and peppers.

Local chefs prepare the home-grown vegetables shared at the community center and at area events. The rebirth of the area holds special significance for Bruce L. Scheiner, who rented half of a duplex there in the early 1970s.

“That was when the community was relatively new, so it has more significance for us to get it back to what it once was,” said Scheiner, whose wife, Cheryl, serves on the Pine Manor Improvement Association board, which has spearheaded much of the transformation.

From the food comes the education. Those interested in a culinary career can take a two-week program at the community center and be ready for employment at an area restaurant. The garden also provides food for the community center pantry to help those in need.

This area of hope seemed hopeless several years ago. Crime was high in nearby neighborhoods. The land occupying the garden was filled with invasive trees and plants. In 2014, the Pine Manor Improvement Association went to work. Using a $5,000 grant, association volunteers built raised garden boxes, while seeds, soil and tools were provided. Up came the food. “We produced a lot of food,” said Robin Gretz, a Pine Manor Improvement Association board member, who oversees the organic garden. “If (the volunteers) worked, they got to take home from their boxes and the extra food went to the food pantry.”

As the gardens thrived and food grew, certified chefs came on board to create the culinary program. FGCU students, enrolled in civic engagement classes, would come once a semester, learn about social services, collect community service hours and “work side by side” with residents, Gretz said. The students helped create a farm production area. A $23,000 donation from local Rotary Clubs was matched by Rotary International District 6960 to help establish the infrastructure for the garden, including a well for irrigation.

The revitalization of this neighborhood is reassuring for Gretz. She was a school teacher and living in Pine Manor in 1973. Then, the area “was developed as affordable housing for young professionals,” Gretz said.

But as crime climbed, young professionals left, and the area suffered. Gretz and her group went to work on the garden and things changed dramatically. Since 2014, the crime rate has dropped over 70 percent. “I knew the families and I knew how to get them interested in the gardens,” Gretz said.

Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, was founded in 1971 by Bruce L. Scheiner and his wife, Cheryl Scheiner. Both continue to work alongside their son, P.J. Scheiner, who joined the firm as a trial attorney in 2007. Today, Bruce and P.J. work in the negotiating room and the courtroom, where they fight to secure full and fair restitution for each and every client they have the privilege of representing. Bruce Scheiner still hand selects each case the firm accepts, personally assembles the team best able to see the case through to settlement or trial, and oversees every case from intake to resolution. For more information, visit www.blslawyers.com.

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