Raised in Germantown, a family returns to volunteer

Three generations of the O’Grady family joined forces in the backyard of My Place Germantown on Saturday afternoon to work on a landscape project for the non-profit organization.

Twenty-nine members had traveled to the site, located at 209 E. Price St., from Mt. Airy, across the Delaware Valley and  New York City to help beautify the exterior of a facility which opened in Nov. 2010.

Today, the former convent for the Sisters of St. Vincent offers a dozen apartments for homeless men with a range of special needs.

“The organization is not a treatment center. It’s a permanent, supportive-housing option with 24-hour support staff, which is very unusual,” said Mary Ellen Graham, the organization’s founder and executive director.

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Community ties

Joseph O’Grady, his sister Eleanor and three siblings grew up in the Immaculate Conception Parish of Germantown in the 1940s and 50s.

Although they no longer live in Germantown, they still feel connected to the neighborhood.

“It was a great place to grow up,” said Eleanor, who is now a Sister of Mercy.

The O’Gradys started volunteering last year when they worked for Project Home. This year, they chose to volunteer in a community where their family had roots.

“All of us have been blessed and we feel a call to give back,” said Joseph O’Grady’s niece Suzanne Laurito. “Where better to do it than in Germantown, where our parents were raised?”

The weekend effort

After pooling money, the family bought trees and flowers to plant on their day of volunteering.

Gabor Landscaping, located in Havertown, then donated their time to pick up and deliver the plants to My Place. Michael O’Grady’s wife Orsolya Lazar created the landscaping design.

“I tried to pick things that are easy to plant and don’t require a lot of maintenance,” Lazar said.

Among the plants chosen were pink Knock Out Roses, daylilies, lilac bushes, arborvitae, blue mist shrubs and inkberry, which is a bush native to the area. Lazar said she purposefully chose a range of plants with varying blooming months so that the yard would be in year-round season.

“I want to make the yard somewhere people can spend time outside and hopefully it will bring people together,” she said.

My Place has also received help from LaSalle University and University of Pennsylvania students and expect a group from Germany this summer. Most recently, an Eagle Scout troop built a collection of planter boxes for the organization.

A resident observes the work

Amos Shattuck, a resident at My Place for more than a year, has been put in charge of growing vegetables in the boxes. He is eager to get the project started.

“It has given me a sense of security,” said Shattuck, who was only My Place resident to attend this weekend’s event.

At the end of a hard day’s work, four members of the O’Grady family, including Joseph’s wife Connie, brought a homemade dinner for the residents.

“It looks like we’ve finally found our place to keep giving back,” said Laurito. “It’s nice to work for such a small place where they don’t have as many resources as a bigger institution.”

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