Jody Carey and Dennis Wood were living in North Park when they bought what they thought would be an investment property near Manzanita Canyon in City Heights.
“We found this house we thought we would be a flip, but we fell in love with the neighborhood and the people who live here,” Wood said. “So we decided to fix it up and move in ourselves.”
That was back in February 2004. Carey and Wood have been lending a hand in improving City Heights since, volunteering thousands of hours cleaning up neighborhood canyons, creating community spaces and rehabilitatng the homes of strangers.
The pair are being recognized as San Diego’s Outstanding Organizational Volunteers during the National Philanthropy Day awards banquet. The awards, presented by National University’s Sanford Institute of Philanthropy, will be presented Nov. 9 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel. National Philanthropy Day, now in its 43rd year, is organized by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, San Diego Chapter.
The couple were nominated by the Ocean Discovery Institute, San Diego Canyonlands, community organizer Linda Pennington, and others.
Carey and Wood, parents to 2-year-old son Sam, say they are getting as much as they are giving.
“When you see the impact that these projects have, when we see the return in the community, it validates what we are doing,” Wood said.
Among their more recent projects, Carey and Wood provided their leadership and expertise by donating significant contractor services to transform a neglected patch of dirt and weeds at the mouth of Manzanita Canyon into a City Heights jewel – the Manzanita Gathering Place. Once a hotbed for criminal activity, the Manzanita Gathering Place is now a pocket park complete with benches, artwork, drought-tolerant plants and mosaic columns supporting canopies that provide plenty of shade.
The Gathering Place, enjoyed by young and old alike, sits just a block from Florence Joyner Elementary School and just above the Ocean Discovery Institute’s future Living Lab that will provide tuition-free science education to thousands of children.
Carey and Wood also have contributed to the rehabilitation and restoration of all four major canyons bisecting the City Heights community, canyons that serve as a watershed leading to San Diego Bay. San Diego Canyonlands volunteers and Ocean Discovery Institute students routinely use these spaces for environmental education, and the City Heights couple regularly walk through the areas performing site preparation, team management, and native species planting.
In addition, the couple, who own a construction company, have helped rehabilitate dozens of homes over the year through Community HousingWorks’ FaceLift program.
Their work has helped transform City Heights’ canyons from dangerous, crime-ridden no-man’s-lands to housing a system of safe trails so that 20,000 youths can go outside and experience nature in a safe environment.
Their most impressive accomplishment, however, has been inspiring and working alongside families – parents, grandparents, and children – providing them with a sense of ownership that encourages the community to care for its outdoor spaces.