Newport News Green Foundation has developed deep roots in the city.
It was founded in 1998 by members of Newport News City Council to ensure the city maintained green areas amongst a sea of development. When the idea was hatched, it was like a sapling, young and untested. As the years have passed, the non-profit organization has developed like a mature tree, with hearty branches and a strong foundation.
“The city leadership realized we were being built out. We are 90 to 95 percent built out,” says Tami Farinholt, executive director of the Newport News Green Foundation. “Along the major corridors, there was building after building, concrete after concrete.”
The impetus for the Green Foundation grew when a huge tree was lost near the intersection of Oyster Point Road and Jefferson Avenue. The space that once was home to a magnificent tree was slated to become home to a Starbucks. Dr. Vince Joseph, then a member of Newport News City Council, decided the city needed to take measures to keep parcels of the city green. From there, the Newport News Green Foundation was borne.
“Dr. Joseph was very instrumental in getting it under way,” Farinholt says.
The mission of the foundation, governed by an 18-member board, is to acquire properties throughout the city and maintain them as green space, meaning nothing is built on them and they stay as grassy and tree-rich as possible. Some properties are donated; others are purchased at low prices. Landowners can donate or sell property to the foundation at a low price, which can then be written off on their taxes, Farinholt says.
“We try not to spend a lot of money on property,” Farinholt says. “Most are bargain sales or donations.”
The first property Green Foundation purchased was in 2001 at McLawhorne Drive and Jefferson Avenue, across from Midtown Community Center. The most recent acquisition was in January 2019 at 315 Center Avenue, property donated by Hampton Roads Sanitation District Commission. The foundation has a property committee that decides which properties to purchase.
Newport News Green Foundation owns a total of 22 properties, which add up to 37 acres total. The parcels are located from the East End all the way up through Denbigh to Lee’s Mill. Some are larger than others. For example, there’s a green space on the corner of Chatham Drive and Bland Boulevard that is six acres and has a walking trail and a pond.
“It’s an oasis in a very busy part of the city,” Farinholt says. “It’s hard to describe how peaceful, quiet and serene it is.”
The standard plot of Green Foundation land is usually less than an acre, Farinholt says.
One of its projects was to help clear out and beautify the ravine in Hilton Village. The foundation doesn’t own the property but had a great interest in making it as beautiful and user-friendly as possible.
“When we can help the city, we will help,” Farinholt says.
The foundation’s most recent project involves partnering with the city to develop Bates Drive, an overgrown space in the East End, into a grassy area to connect with King Lincoln Park.
“It will be a meandering trail,” Farinholt says.
Each of the spaces is marked with a Newport News Green Foundation sign. People pass them in cars all day, Farinholt says, and sometimes don’t realize they are there.
“When they are flying by at 45 mph, they don’t always notice,” she says with a smile.
There was once a car lot at the intersection of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue. Green Foundation turned it into a green space. “It’s made a huge difference,” Farinholt says. “Now there are trees there instead of automobiles.”
The foundation wants all of its parcels to have a positive impact on the city and its residents. The more green space a city has, Farinholt says, the better it is for many reasons, both in terms of the health of its citizens and the environment.
“There is a movement globally to look at how green space affects the mental and physical health of people,” she says. “It creates a connection in the community. It’s a place people can gather, or just walk around.”
Green Foundation has a budget of more than $250,000 for 2019. The cost to mow the grass at the properties alone is $70,000 a year. The foundation, which has an office in space donated by the city in its landscaping department on Minton Drive, looks to volunteers to help with keeping its spaces clean. With gloves and bags in her car, Farinholt is often out cleaning up the properties herself.
A native of Newport News and the mother of two, Farinholt took the helm three years ago and derives great pleasure from doing something beneficial for Newport News.
“It’s an opportunity for me to really make an impact on the city that raised me,” she says. “I am passionate about green space, and I love creating connections with people. I am very lucky I get to do this.”
TO THE POINT:
Newport News Green Foundation
Address: 100 Minton Dr., Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Tami Farinholt, executive director
Website: www.nngreen.com www.facebook.com/nngreenfoundation