Loyal to the soil

Whether volunteering time to a civic, mentoring children or working behind a cause, many with local ties are making our neighborhoods a better place to live.

By Joseph Myers
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 1 | Posted Oct. 13, 2011

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Robert Malara

Photo by Greg Bezanis

Unemployment can devastate one’s confidence. Robert Malara, however, forbid his setback from ruining his resolve.

The resident of the 1200 block of South Iseminger Street became a School District of Philadelphia budgetary cut casualty in June and lost his kindergarten teaching position at Andrew Jackson School, 1213 S. 12th St. The dismissal could have withered his will and the garden he created earlier this year at the Passyunk Square site, but he diligently tended to its collection of perennials and other plants over the summer.

“I decided I wanted more than just a classroom setting to help my learners,” he said of his motivation.

Malara, 52, lacks a solid horticultural background, so the project educated him as much as his pupils. DonorsChoose, an online charity, helped him to pick materials, and personnel from Columbus Square Park, 12th and Wharton streets, offered assistance. Some vegetation had already existed to the left and right of Jackson’s entrance, but Malara sought a more vibrant spectacle. His foresight resulted in 100 feet of space and the children’s elation. Joy turned to concern as the school year wound down, and the instructor learned he would be exiting the learning institution after only one year.

“I was worried about losing the DonorsChoose money,” Malara, whose teaching career includes 11 years at Christopher Columbus Charter School, 1242-46 S. 13th St., said.

Hoping for reinstatement, he asked for and received clemency, but his ordered plants ended up discontinued. Regardless, he made use of the organization’s previous offerings, donations from numerous people and personal purchases to sustain his brainchild.

“Working on the garden kept me from thinking about bad scenarios,” he said of fears of not returning to Jackson. “I just took my headphones and went.”

He made the 15 varieties’ roots happy and gained more than vicarious pleasure when the district welcomed him back just in time to meet a new group of youngsters, with whom he will share his budding hobby.

“The garden is very relaxing to me,” the Lansdowne native, who will increase its contents, said.

His distinction as a Difference Maker gives him pride, although it runs counter to his self-perception.

“I prefer staying behind the scenes,” he said, “or, in this case, behind the bushes and trees.”

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.

More 2011 Difference Makers:

Madeline Brinkman   Louis DiRenzo   Bonney DosSantos   Andrew Emma   Darren Fava  

Sara Feinstein   Greg Frangipani   Gary Harkins   Kelly Hile   Mitch Little  

Jessica Mammarella   Chris Menna   Anton Moore   John Murawski   Cassie Plummer  

Sue Posternock   Michelle Rumbaugh   Letty Santarelli   Christy Santoro  

Marianne Squillaciotti   Walter Stewart   Jennifer Swain   Angelica Victoriano   Joe Whelan

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