Within moments of meeting Barbara Skas and Jo Labor, one might think they’re sisters. The deep connection they have and the love they share for helping children’s gardens grow to be the best they can is apparent and special. They may not be related by blood, though as Jo puts it, “Oh yeah, we’re adopted sisters.”
These two Beach Cities Health District (BCHD) Garden Angel volunteers, who tend to Beach Cities elementary school gardens, met when they were both working for Raytheon. Jo was born and raised right here in Manhattan Beach and has since lived in Redondo for the past twenty-five years. Though originally from Chicago, Barb has also been in Redondo Beach for the past twenty-five years. They began as walking partners and have since become two volunteer angels.
After learning about BCHD through a cooking class at a senior facility in Redondo Beach, Barb and Jo decided to find out how they could get involved. The pair’s love for gardening led them to volunteering their time as Garden Angels, naturally, and the two have never looked back. Their main responsibility is to maintain the compost bins, by which they create a natural fertilizer they’ve dubbed “worm juice.” “It’s very gratifying to teach the children to grow and eat their own vegetables,” explained Jo, with Barb adding, “Seeing the worms grow is very satisfying. We teach an earth to earth cycle.” The children love the harvest time, which is just around the corner, with flourishing red and yellow tomatoes, pomegranates, melons and mint, to name only a few.
Their supervisor, BCHD’s Garden Coordinator, Mishell Balzer, enjoys working with both ladies very much. She described them as “best friends who have been amazing from the start, always cheerful and hard-working” and explained, in addition to tending to their designated Garden Angel schools, “they also make the rounds – on their own – to schools that have worms bins, tending to the worms, feeding them produce scraps (that they save, prep and bring themselves), and collecting the ‘worm juice’ to be used.”
It is clear Barb and Jo love each other and what they do. Their advice to others thinking about volunteering is to do it because “it warms your heart and is so very gratifying.”