By Sharon Chin

OAKLAND (KPIX) — A former school administrator cultivates a vision for healthy people and a healthy community with her work through an East Bay non-profit organization.

Wanda Stewart recalls how an apple tree took root at Hoover Elementary School in West Oakland. Kids would drop seeds from the apples in their lunch onto the ground.

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As executive director of Common Vision, Stewart oversees a dozen East Bay school partnerships that teach thousands of students the basics of fruit and vegetable gardening.

“I want to be the best model for how to take care of your body, how to take care of the community and grow community, and how to take care of the environment,” Stewart said.

Stewart has expanded the nonprofit’s work since 2019, from statewide tree-planting to growing Bay Area campus gardens. She’s also training instructors to incorporate the outdoor laboratories in their curriculum.

She even created the “MamaWanda” video series on YouTube so students could keep learning while sheltered at home in the pandemic.

And for at-risk kids who are no strangers to neighborhood violence, Stewart says the growing cycle teaches lessons in death and life.

“You are not different from the tree,” she said. “That tree needs water, that tree needs good fertilizer, that tree needs sunshine, fresh air and love.”

Besides food from the gardens, Stewart and her volunteers have found a new way to feed others in the last year. They’re packing up food donations from Good Eggs organic grocery to distribute to a couple hundred families and homeless encampments each week.

Parents like Monique Oatis are grateful.

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“It definitely helps me and my family out especially during the pandemic,” Oatis said.

To volunteer Larry Davis, Stewart is an inspiration.

“She’s like a magnet. She’s a godsend,” Davis said.

Volunteer Benjamin Holme agrees. He called her a “people weaver.”

“She’s amazing at bringing people together and making projects happen,” Holme said.

And in the process, Stewart said, “I’m also teaching you how to grow yourself.”

So for expanding her nonprofit’s vision to nourish her community through food, gardening and education, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Wanda Stewart.

Common Vision is funded primarily by foundations. During the pandemic, students received more than 450 fruit trees to plant in home gardens.

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This summer, Stewart says Common Vision is starting a new program, Tree Core, that trains young people aged 16 to 24 to plant trees and care for their environment.