DOI / VISTA Team Projects

Groundwork Elizabeth

DOI / VISTA: Kristine Versola
Supervisor: Jonathan Phillips
Address: 205 First Street, Elizabeth, New Jersey 07026
County: Union County
Voice Telephone: 908-289-0262
Web site:
Congressional District: 9
Bureau: National Park Service (NPS)


The mission of Groundwork Elizabeth is to bring about the sustained regeneration, improvement, and management of the physical environment by developing community-based partnerships which empower people, businesses, educational institutions and other organizations to promote environmental, economic, and social well-being.  Groundwork has worked and continues to work with the National Park Service RTCA on engaging youth to appreciate and work in open space.  Together we  educate and train our High School aged Green Team at National Parks (locally Morristown Historic National Park, Gateway National Park), and provide volunteer and job training opportunities at these and other sites.

The DOI/VISTA project site Groundwork Elizabeth is sponsored by the National Park Service (NPS) whose mission is to preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

About the Surrounding Community

Elizabeth’s population is 59% Latin and 13% African American. The 2010 census stated that 90% of the community income levels range from low to moderate and many do not speak English as a first language. There is limited access to healthy foods and also a lack of education in the role that foods play in health.  A health crisis exists in the urban communities and low cost and filling foods add to the problem of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. The City of Elizabeth is severely deficient in open space. The urban waters of the Elizabeth River serve Elizabeth’s congested eleven square mile urban community of 120,000+ and are part of the Passaic River region which compose the Gateway Region of New Jersey and nearby New York ports. Elizabeth’s urban waters are impaired by pathogens, contaminated sediments that result from: combined sewer overflows; PCP’s being released through the Arthur Kill’s dredging activities by the Port Authority of NY and NJ; polluted runoff from urban landscapes; and contamination from nearby abandoned brownfield properties. As such, the water quality is tainted in 90% of its rivers and streams, 95% of its lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, 89% of its bays and estuaries, and 100% of its ocean waters. Only 23 of 951 designated Watershed areas within the State are considered “healthy”. There is a continuing lack of community awareness regarding this unnatural state of the watershed, evidenced by the amount of fishing that still goes on in these urban waters regardless of signs being posted along the river. 

Project Overview

The DOI/VISTA, Rocio Morales, assists Groundwork Elizabeth’s work in promoting healthy open space and community gardening programming. Because of this work, participants have access to healthy foods through community gardens for food sustenance. The GW Elizabeth Gardens serve hundreds of underserved community members working hand in hand with members of other related organizations and with the Green Team. Youth and adults have the opportunity to build life and job skills through improving access to healthy environments. The work with the Come Grow With Us program, Green Team program, and related Green Workforce Initiative program gets participants up, out, and moving, giving them training and work opportunities, and introduces them to members of the public and private sector. This activity helps disinvested members of the greater community learn skills, work, and meet people who can help them advance their careers. Rocio, in addition, encourages an ongoing relationship with Morristown Historic National Park and works there to assist the park in farming and trail building

Sponsors and Partners

For more information please visit: