York City School District Superintendent Deborah Wortham and York City Council member Michael Helfrich met by chance late last week.

A day later, that meeting bore fruit in the form of a volunteer-led garden cleanup.

When they met, Helfrich expressed disappointment that a native plant garden at the corner of College and Pershing avenues by the high school had become overgrown.

The garden was started by a since-retired teacher for educational purposes, but Wortham admitted "many passers-by thought (it) was no more than weeds" now.

Wortham also said she had heard about Helfrich's day job as the Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and his knowledge of plants.

So she shared an estimate the school district had gotten for cleaning up the overgrown area: $21,000.

"My jaw hit the ground. I said, 'I think that it can just be cleaned up in a couple of hours,'" Helfrich recalled.

"That's when I realized I had moved from complainer to a volunteer," Helfrich added with a laugh.

Pitching in: On Saturday, Helfrich, William Penn Senior High School principal Randy James, board members Michael Miller and Margie Orr, students, teachers and parents gathered to clean up the garden.

Wortham said some students received service learning credit for the experience as well.

"There's a huge desire in our community to do better," Miller added.

Native plants, such as dogwood, were left untouched, while invasive species such as vines were removed.


"If I see something I can do with a little elbow grease, then let's get it done," Helfrich said.

While taxpayers avoided a $21,000 bill, the district also now has refreshed educational space that Helfrich hopes can once again be used to teach students about plant life.

"There are opportunities out there to make some money if you learn about these things," Helfrich said.

-- Reach Andrew Shaw at ashaw@yorkdispatch.com