Heroes Next Door 2013: William O’Neil


Thanks to William O’Neil, an important part of Greenville’s history is being preserved and noticed.  O’Neil, a retired National Park Service employee whose last assignment was at the  Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, has served on the Board for the Friends of Richland Cemetery for many years, including terms as the Chairman of the Board and chair of the Improvement Committee.

Richland Cemetery and was the first municipal African-American cemetery in the City of Greenville. It is the final resting place for some of the most influential black citizens of Greenville. It is also the final resting place of several of O’ Neil’s family members. Personal ties to the cemetery, along with O’Neil’s passion for preservation, have led to O’Neil’s commitment to Richland. O’Neil has been a prominent leader behind the development of a conservation plan for Richland Cemetery, completed by the Chicora Foundation in 2011; the preservation of the simple but historic gateway on Hill St.; the funding for the first phase of grave marker conservation and the reconstruction of the Hilly St. edge to protect historic graves from storm water impact. 

O’Neil was a leader in convincing the Greenville City Council to direct a small percentage of revenue generated from a cell phone tower located on city property adjacent to the cemetery to the Friends of Richland Cemetery so the Friends could contract for stone conservation work. O’Neil worked tirelessly to preserve an important cultural landscape and, has been the “squeaky wheel” who gets things done by working closely and building collaborative relationships with other board members and city staff to plan and fund much needed conservation work. 

Nominator City of Greenville Parks and Recreation director and nominator, Dana Souza says, “He is a champion for historic preservation; a champion for preserving Greenville’s nationally registered historic African-American Cemetery and is one of Greenville’s true unsung hero and, Heroes Next Door.”

Heroes Next Door 2013: Genaro Marin

On November 8, Greenville Forward will honor Horace Mays, Genaro Marin and William O’Neil with the Heroes Next Door award and Maya Simmons with the Generation Forward award. These individuals have been chosen because of their selfless dedication to improving our community. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be sharing more about the winners on our blog. To hear more about their stories and celebrate their work, join us at the Heroes Next Door Awards Breakfast on Friday at Zen in downtown Greenville. Tickets can be purchased here. 

Genaro Marin

Russell Memorial Presbyterian Church

Genaro Marin speaks eloquently, but humbly, about how helping others became a part of his life. After meeting several people who were down-on-their-luck, the Panamanian-born retired psychologist, decided that helping people through their hard times, would be part of the next stage of his life. Since moving to Greenville, 9 years ago, Marin has continued that mission by dedicating his time to help Hispanic immigrants find much-needed resources.

During his time in Greenville, Marin’s work has touched families living throughout Greenville County. Marin helped establish two outreach programs for families, Café Cultura at the Center for Community Services in Simpsonville and a Latino Ministry at Russell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Berea. Marin ensured that the programs featured educational opportunities to better acclimate immigrants to life in Greenville and the United States. Marin continues to dedicate his time to helping families and volunteers at community events, as well as a volunteering with the Red Cross Hispanic Outreach program.

Nominator Joana Hernandez said in her nomination, “I can think of no one that deserves this recognition more than Genaro Marin. He is a dedicated servant to the community. Genaro’s attitude is that everyone, pulling together, can make the Greenville a better place.”  It’s that attitude that has helped Marin make community connections and create more opportunities for the people he serves and it is that attitude that Greenville Forward will honor on Nov. 8th with the Heroes Next Door Award.

Heroes Next Door 2013: Horace Mays

On November 8, Greenville Forward will honor Horace Mays, Genaro Marin and William O’Neil with the Heroes Next Door award and Maya Simmons with the Generation Forward award. These individuals have been chosen because of their selfless dedication to improving our community. Over the next couple of days, we’ll be sharing more about the winners on our blog. To hear more about their stories and celebrate their work, join us at the Heroes Next Door Awards Breakfast on Friday at Zen in downtown Greenville. Tickets can be purchased here. 

Horace Mays

picture provided by Suzanne Newton

Horace Mays is the reason the community garden movement is thriving in Greenville. He’s not an organizer or a funder, he’s a volunteer and the champion behind the St. Anthony of Padua’s school and church garden. He gathers workers for the garden, sometimes even recruiting Gower Street neighbors right off the street, and helps educate students on where their food comes from. Mays, an 88-year-old retired Navy chef and Pratt Whitney employee, is known as the “Garden’s Godfather” and his hard work shows in the beautiful peppers and heads of broccoli that can be found growing at St. Anthony’s.

We met Mays on a cold morning in the garden to record a video for the Heroes Next Door event, and he proudly took us on a tour of his garden. It was impressive, but more impressive than the great-looking produce, was Mays’ welcoming spirit. He emphasized that the produce in the garden was available to anyone who wanted to come pick it, and that his fenceless garden was there to feed the community. And it does. The garden’s produce supplements the church’s food pantry and community members come pick okra, collards and other beautiful produce.

But while Mays is passionate about the garden, he is more than just a grower. As nominator Suzanne Newton said, “At 88, Greenville native Mr. Horace Mays has more energy and resolve than most people half his age.” Mays is also a volunteer caretaker for the grounds at the Greenville Free Medical Clinic, involved with other volunteer organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, and he uses his chef expertise to teach cooking classes at St. Anthony’s.

In her nomination Newton, summed up best why we’ll be honoring Mays on Nov. 8th. She said, “This man is the soul of Christian kindness, as well as a great mentor and example of truly living well in one’s later years.”

Thoughts from the Intern: Bridging the GAP

More so than any other week thus far, this past week has literally flown by. From area garden visits and my garden clubs (currently working with over 200 kids!) to nearly throwing away our first Swamp Rabbit Teaching Garden harvest (intern moment), I have had a fast-paced and full week indeed!

This week was especially interesting because, on Thursday, I was able to attend a Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) information class. The GAP Audit Verification Program is a voluntary program to demonstrate the participating agricultural entity has adhered to the FDA’s food safety standards. While the program is voluntary, it is necessary for farms to be GAP certified if they wish to sell to school systems larger food companies, such as Wal-Mart.

We learned all about the GAP audit process in the morning and, later that afternoon, we headed out to Bio-Way Farms to participate in a practice audit. I thought the class was truly fascinating! However, I was a little disillusioned afterwards. It seems like GAP is nearly impossible to achieve if one wants to run a sustainable farm. GAP certifiers discourage the re-use of picking baskets, compost tea, and animal-based pest prevention.

This is hard information to process, especially after being exposed to so many beautiful, sustainable, and plentiful gardens all throughout Greenville County this summer while working with Gardening for Good. The food these gardens produce cannot be sold to the greater public because they are not GAP certified. It makes me a little disheartened to know that the heirloom white cucumbers currently growing in our own Swamp Rabbit Teaching Garden can’t be enjoyed by more people, unless we were to have a GAP audit on that crop.

I have always been interested in agriculture administration at the federal level…(or rather, often angered by it). I do feel like I understand the relationship between farms and the USDA even better now that I have had an in depth look at one of the USDA’s regulation programs. Even better, during the GAP class were provided with a delicious lunch made with local ingredients – it remains unclear if these ingredients were GAP certified, but they tasted great to me!

Thoughts from the Intern: On Summer and Sweet Potatoes


Seeds, a community gardening manual, Reclaiming our Food, and a Veggie Tales coloring book: I found these items on my desk last Monday morning as I began my first day with Gardening for Good. Yes, it is going to be a good summer indeed.

A branch of Greenville Forward, Gardening for Good is a network of local community gardens that utilizes the energy of the community garden movement to coordinate neighborhood redevelopment efforts, improve the health of residents and neighborhoods, and transform Greenville through gardening. Gardening for Good is coordinating gardening partnerships throughout Greenville County to create a healthier, more sustainable and socially just local food system.

Not to mention the G4G director, Reece Lyerly is my hero.

This summer, I will be working with various area community centers to facilitate summer garden clubs for kids. These clubs will use gardens as a medium to teach local children environmental awareness, healthy choices, and other various life skills! Hopefully, these gardens will also show each club member the satisfaction that comes from caring for something overtime while subsequently observing local food systems and life cycles first hand!

In addition to developing a Garden Club curriculum, I will be inventorying the nearly seventy area gardens Gardening for Good partners with. Finally, with this internship, I will be working in the Gardening for Good demonstration garden and participating in weekly gleanings at a farm in Marietta, SC.

Needless to say, I have an ambitious and AWESOME ten weeks ahead! I’m so excited to have the opportunity to focus my love of local food, nutrition, and service into this one amazing organization.

This past week, I have already been able to dive into work, seeing what Greenville Forward and Gardening for Good  has to offer this community. I have sat in on board meetings with LiveWell Greenville, learned my way around the Chamber of Commerce, and gleaned over 400 pounds of squash to be donated to area charities

On Friday morning, I found myself outside in the rain (thanks Tropical Storm Andrea) digging in the damp soil. Carefully, Reece and I planted sweet potato slips into the cool earth. Reece had been waiting anxiously all week for his sweet potatoes to arrive in the mail (Side note: yes, you can order sweet potatoes in the mail!). We were at the Gardening for Good demonstration garden conveniently located at the Swamp Rabbit Trail Cafe, and you betcha I got a scone before we left.

As I trudged into the office after our muddy, yet successful morning, I knew my summer had officially begun. I quickly changed into more professional clothes and, fruitlessly, tried to remove any excess dirt from my nails. In that moment, I realized that I would probably never again have clean fingernails this summer. Cool! Just don’t tell my mom, ok?


A Homecoming of Sorts


My name Ana Parra and I’m Greenville Forward’s new Community Relations Director.  After being away from Greenville for five years, I am beyond thrilled to return to the city that I call home and to work with the dynamic team at Greenville Forward.

The reasons for wanting to return are pretty obvious. We all know Greenville is thriving. We can see it on our walks, bike rides and drives through town. It’s as evident in Travelers Rest, as it is in downtown. And as someone who moved here with her family in 1994, it leaves me amazed every time I see the progress.  It’s not just seeing the buildings that are going up, but also experiencing the diversity in our population and leadership that leaves me cheering for Greenville.

Many of the items outlined in the Vision 2025 are no longer just hopes for this city, but actual tangible goals that have been reached. That’s awesome to be in the middle of, but that’s not the only reason for my homecoming.

When an opportunity to be a part of an organization that has been the catalyst for progress came along, I enthusiastically jumped on board. I came back because this is an opportunity to brag about my hometown and at the same time have serious conversations about how we can make it better for all its citizens. At Greenville Forward, we continue to refine and evolve the goals of Vision 2025. It’s not about growing but growing in a way that keeps Greenville learning, green, healthy, creative, connected, inclusive and innovative.

As Community Relations Director, I get to do the thing I love most, work side-by-side with community members to improve Greenville. Specifically I’ll be working on development, marketing and membership for Greenville Forward. I’m ready to get started and tell you more about Greenville Forward’s story and how we can work together.  This is a great time to talk about Greenville’s story and a great time to get to work on the next chapter.

May Momentum Recap – Keeping Greenville Cool

In the past few months, it seems that Greenville has been recognized as one of the best places to live in the country – for families, young professionals, international businesses and more.  We’ve suddenly become “the cool kids on the block.”  At our recent Momentum discussion, we explored the “cool factor,” asking WHY is Greenville cool and HOW can we stay cool?  This is what the group had to say.

We started the discussion by defining “coolness” – a sometimes amorphous term that we are all striving for in some way or fashion.  The group listed words such as attractive, uniqueness, current, relevant, unexpected, accessible, progressive and openness.  Greenville may not be all of these things at all times, but if one thing is certain, everyone in the room thinks Greenville is a cool place to live, today.  But it wasn’t always this way.  Only a few years ago, Main St. was a place everyone avoided after 5PM and many young people found reasons to leave after graduation, vowing never to return.  Then something happened and things began to change.  Falls Park was formed, the Camperdown bridge was removed, a baseball stadium was built in the West End, restaurants and business returned to Main St. and more.  Slowly, the culture shifted and suddenly Greenville became a cool place to live, work and play.

So, HOW did this happen?  Did we plan to become cool or did it just happen?  The simple answer is YES, both.  One attendee described this success story as the 4 P’s of coolness: people, places, programs and planning.  A good example of the 4 P’s is Fall Park, which took years of careful planning and innovative programs to become the hallmark of our beloved City.  More than once, the group discussed Falls Park as a cool place in Greenville, where people are known to picnic on a sunny day or enjoy Shakespeare in the Park during the summer months.  In the words of Russell Stall, Greenville is a “30 year overnight success” story.  Now that we are cool, and recognized nationally, the group said that we need to stay cool by focusing on connectivity, education, and job creation to attract, recruit and retain the young professionals, families and businesses that keep us cool.  In addition, they said we need to consider smart growth and transit options between other municipalities in Greenville County to connect cool places in Fountain Inn, Traveler’s Rest and Simpsonville.  If you have ideas about how to keep Greenville cool, let us know at whatifgreenville.com!

Falls Park

April Momentum Recap – The Arts of Money

Icon_creativeAt our recent Momentum lunch series, a dynamic group of business leaders, interested community members and artists discussed the importance of arts in Greenville.  The good news is that the groups believes that Greenville is VERY supportive of its artists – but there is still more to be done.  During our hour-long discussion, we considered the importance of cultivating a creative community, the role of art in economic development and how we can better support a thriving arts community.  Here is a short recap.

First of all, what is art?  Succinctly, art is “stuff people create.”  But more importantly, why is it important for us to be a creative community that supports the arts?  According the group attending, art defines a sense of place and community.  It is a “shared experience” that brings people together whether in a coffee shop, art galley, monster truck rally or concert hall.  The great thing about art is that it is inherently communal, but also personal because it allow individual expression and interpretation.  Based on the discussion, creative communities, such as Greenville, are forward-thinking and welcoming because they cultivate community through the arts, no matter the medium.

In Greenville, it is very clear the role of arts in economic development.  The Peace Center, Flour Field, and Poinsett and Hyatt Regency hotels are hallmarks of downtown’s revitalization and each intimately connected to the arts.  On the other hand, arts provide an intangible benefit because they provide a means of communication through the shared experience and emotional connection.  Whether it’s through community gardens, First Fridays, street performers or flash mobs, creative communities are more vibrant and successful not just because of the economic development impact but because of the stronger social connections among residents.

Greenville is often recognized as one of the top small arts towns in the country with many popular festivals such as Artisphere, Euphoria and Fall for Greenville.  One attendee described Greenville’s image as “creatively corporate,” reflecting the balance between industry and arts in town.  But what can we do to further arts in Greenville?  Suggestions include:

– A community theater
– Better marketing for the Far West Wend
– Better arts education in public schools
– An avant garde art scene
– Help artists find multiple jobs

If you have an idea, let us know at whatifgreenville.com  No matter your art form, we are excited you call Greenville home.  We hope you will continue the conversation on cultivating a creative and artistic community in Greenville.  And don’t forget to join us at our monthly Momentum lunch discussion series.


Momentum Series – Diversity of Faith Recap

ImageThe faith community in Greenville is a very important thread in the fabric of the Greenville community.  Everyone has an opinion on faith in the community and many have respect for the diversity of faith in Greenville.  But, there are challenges that we still face in creating a community that is surrounded with mutual respect.  

The first Momentum Series of 2013 focused on the diversity of faith in our community.  

“In 2007, Greenville Forward and other partners presented a report, Race Matters, that explored inclusion, tolerance, and diversity in Greenville County.  While the results were not surprising to some, one of the key conclusions was that the biggest tensions in Greenville County deal with religious diversity and acceptance.  

As we grow as a community, so do the variety of faiths, religious practices and cultural backgrounds.  How do we work to respect all backgrounds at the table?  How can we hold steadfast in our own personal belief systems, and respect the rights of others to hold to theirs?”

The attendance at the event was very full, with over 35 attendees.  Many expressed an interest in hearing the conversation.  Some were there as interested citizens.  Some were there to represent their organizations.  And, some were there to truly discuss how to move forward.  One attendee even mentioned that this session was “an answer to our prayers.” 

Russell started out the conversation very broadly by asking what “inclusion” means to the audience. 


  • Everyone.  
  • Equal opportunity. 
  • Welcoming.  
  • Happy to meet you no matter who you are.  
  • Accepting.
  • It’s a puzzle.  How do you include everyone, even the ones who don’t want to be here? 

One participant mentioned that there are still people missing from the table, i.e. Hindu, Bahai, etc.  It struck her that those faiths are not at the table.  Why weren’t they at the table?  Was it a choice or a scheduling thing?  

Is Greenville inclusive? Some said no.  Because there are still people that are not working together.  at is the reason they are not here?  Do they feel welcome?  Do they even want to be here?

Russell talked about a study that Greenville Forward did in 2009 in partnership with Beyond Differences.  The number 1 tension that came from the study was religious acceptance.  To view the study, click here.

Participants asked if that was an outcome of the way the world is right now.  Is Greenville alone in this topic or is it a trend worldwide?  

“Why do you believe that this religious tension is as great as it is?”

  • Cultural misunderstanding.
  • Pride.  It is human nature to want to be right.  

“Can we have inclusion of the mind and not of the heart?  In my heart is where my conviction is.  In my mind is why I have my conviction.”

How have we changed as a faith community since the ’70’s or ’80’s?

  • More citizens are willing to sit at a table of respect.  To break bread.  To not discuss differences, but to discuss similarities.  

What can we do to build better understanding between faith communities?

  • Love.
  • Build stronger respect.  
  • Talk to one another.  
  • Recognize differences and move on. 
  • Figure out those projects that encourage us to work together, side by side.  
  • Breaking bread with one another. 

The conversation won’t stop here.  We encourage others to have these candid conversations and challenge themselves to keep it moving forward.  These are important topics and the more we discuss them, the closer we can get to creating a community that is healthy all the way around. 



December Momentum – When A Plan Comes Together

Staring out introducing everyone around the table.  There are lots of different backgrounds here.  Everyone is interested in hearing about where we stand with the County’s comprehensive plan.

What is the intention of comprehensive planning?  To set goals.  To address issues for the future.  An input of information as well as an output of information.  It serves as a guideline for addressing future issues.   It’s an opportunity for citizen participation.

The most important part of planning is citizen participation.  The planners don’t simply plan in a silo.  It takes the input from everyone.

There was success in bring people out, especially those on the extreme ends.  But, there were challenges in bringing those that were in the middle of the road.  The average, ordinary folks that are happy with everything.  It was surprising to see how much common ground those in the community have.  It was very interesting to get down to the tactical stage.

County growth was a very big item.  Positive and negative.  The future land use map was a very big item as well. Centers, Corridors and Communities.  Compact growth model.  The centers and corridors would be the place where we can accomplish the compact growth.

Nancy Fitzer with Upstate Forever talked about the Upstate Forever growth presentation they worked on with The Strom Thurmond Institute at Clemson.  This was done right before the County started comprehensive planning.  That was one of the reasons why growth was such an important piece.  You can see that presentation at http://www.upstateforever.org

What kind of balance did the County have with the community vs. the planners?  There was a steering committee which consisted of community members and planners.  That group served almost as a filter.  And, they helped work with some of the extreme groups that didn’t want change, increased land use, etc.