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Junior's beautification project leads to JECA transformation

Caroleena Mancilla, a junior at Judson Early College Academy, remembers visiting her grandfather’s ranch where she would see him tending plants and trees of all kinds. That’s where her passion for growing things began. Today, that passion has fueled a project that started as a small garden but is growing into much more.

The idea started last year when Caroleena was a sophomore and helped found the Environmental Club. She was able to get a donation for some plants but after that things didn’t go exactly as she hoped. 

“Some of the plants didn’t make it because we didn’t have the resources to continue to make the beds so we ended up giving away the plants that were still alive,” Caroleena said. 

But that was the beginning of the journey, not the end. 

While volunteering at the Doseum, Caroleena met Asia Jones-Carr, Recycling Coordinator for the City of San Antonio, and the author of children’s books that focus on recycling and composting. At that meeting, Jones-Carr shared that the City of San Antonio gives free compost to schools.

“That got my gears rolling. If she gives free compost to schools, maybe I can try to get other resources to bring the garden project to life,” Caroleena excitedly shared.

After a delivery of 70 cubic feet of compost, things started to roll. Knowing Caroleena’s passion for the project, her parents donated the wood to make the beds. Walmart donated $50 for soil and plants. Ms. Riggin, the National Honor Society Sponsor, helped Caroleena get volunteers to make the beds. They planted fruits, vegetables and some flowers.

Then something big happened.

Caroleena wrote and was awarded a $5000 Eco Scholars Grant. The City of San Antonio’s Solid Waste Management Department and Office of Sustainability grant program funds projects that directly affect climate change, reduction of greenhouse gasses, or other sustainability issues. The grant Caroleena wrote will create a recycling program and composting station at JECA. 

Now, JECA will be able to make their own compost to maintain the garden. 

“We can use the weeds and dead plants and put them into our compost bin to be put back into our garden so it can be like a whole cycle,” Caroleena explained.

She has big goals for the garden but she still has work to do before her vision is complete.

“We need a fence to keep the deer from digging up the plants, an irrigation system and my goal is to have ten beds that will have a variety of fruits and vegetables for people to choose from,” Caroleena said. “I want this to be a community garden where people can just grab things when they are ready to eat, to take home and make meals with fresh ingredients.”

What started out as a small beautification project has turned into a lesson in perseverance, goal setting and collaboration with the result being a long-lasting impact on the JECA community.

Caroleena aspires to be a veterinarian, another goal and passion inspired by time spent on her grandpa’s ranch. There is little doubt that, with her determination and focus, she will achieve this goal and the many, many others she will set for herself.

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