Cindy Mendoza of Observatory Hill says she is “just a mom.” And like any good mom, the 33-year-old wants a better life for her sons, ages 5, 6 and 13. And she supports other moms through the online group she began in 2011 (with friend Diamonte Walker), Brown Mamas. It’s a source for African American moms to learn more about gardening, cooking, lifestyle tips and creating a safe neighborhood.

Now with a grant from One Northside, Mendoza can up her game. On July 25 and August 22 she is hosting Mastering Motherhood workshops, focusing on basic life skills like meal planning and how to make your own cleaning products. The workshops will be held in the vacant lot on the corner of Perrysville and Perryview Avenues.

There’s more. With a $3,000 grant from GTECH, she is presently transforming that acre (more or less) into “A Place for Moms Welcome Corner,” an oasis for neighborhood gardening and relaxation.

“I had an excellent mother,” she says. “I was a single mom back in 2002, and I lived in the projects. I was just so determined to make a better life for my son because my mom had instilled in me that I was going to go to college and that I could still be successful.”

The Point Park University graduate, with a degree in communications, tells us more.

As a ReClaim Northside Ambassador for Observatory Hill and the Northside neighborhoods, what’s your biggest challenge?

I don’t feel like there is a challenge at all. That’s what you do as a part of a neighborhood. If you see something that needs to be done you just do it. That’s something that I instilled in my children. All three of my sons are big “no litter” people. If they see people littering (they’ll tell them) “You have to pick that up!” It’s just the way I was raised.

What are your hopes for “A Place for Moms Welcome Corner?”

Right now we are just working on cleaning it and getting the grass mowed. At some point I want to make it a space where we can hold stuff for moms—a space where we can all feel like we’re being included in something greater than ourselves. I want to make it a space where moms can come to do everything as simple as just coming to have a day with their kids and do some gardening with their kids and then also to be able to offer basic gardening classes. That’s one thing that my moms are interested in finding more about. I’m an avid gardener, and when they come to my house they ask, “how can I learn how to do this?” I tell them it’s pretty simple, but I don’t necessarily have a space where I can teach them some techniques.

And for my neighbors—a lot of my neighbors don’t have huge gardens where they can grow some of the foods they want to grow. I would love to have that space available to them so if they want to grow some cabbage or something like a stalk of corn that doesn’t fit into their space.

We’re really thinking of multiple purposes for (the corner). Maybe even put in a place where dogs can go play. Now we are focusing on the corner and trying to make it beautiful and putting a bench there for the bus stop.

We’re about to do some planting next week. Eventually we would like to get some nice big wood structures to create some seating. We’re getting feedback and finding out what the neighbors want to see over there. A few of my neighbors are elderly and I know they would probably like to have some raised gardens so they don’t have to bend so far.

Cindy Mendoza in the vacant lot she will transform into "A Place for Moms Welcome Corner"

Cindy Mendoza in the vacant lot she will transform into “A Place for Moms Welcome Corner”

How many more vacant lots on the Northside do you hope to improve?

In Observatory Hill there are quite a few folks thinking about developing more of these vacant lands. I really see them as an opportunity for regular people to create something in their community that is for the community. I hope that at some point more of the lots are able to be reclaimed and made into something that is a support for the community.

What else are you working on to improve the community through One Northside for all residents?

My Mastering Motherhood workshop is the other thing that I’m working on right now. It will be for Northside moms. I’m hoping to really get some moms into this because I feel like the only difference between African American people who are in poverty and African American people who aren’t in poverty is parenting—if  you can get some moms to understand what it takes to run a household and to be committed. My motto is by making moms better moms you make dads better dads, children become better adults and ultimately, communities become better communities. That’s the only way to do it. There is no other way. You can address education. You can address poverty. You can address health. But if you don’t address the parent, nothing is going to change because parents are going to pass on their good and bad habits to their children no matter what.