Our own Trailblazers!

Throughout the years women have worked in many different fields – and while they have historically been denied or struggled to gain access in certain sectors – it’s amazing to see how far women have come. At CommunityGrows, we are blessed to have two such amazing women – Barbara Wenger and Kelly ErnstFriedman. Wenger founded CommunityGrows in 1994, after working alongside neighbors and the Hayes Valley Neighborhood Parks Group for many years. While she faced many challenges in her position as Founder, she never stopped advocating for safe green spaces and outdoor learning. It is this history that Women Trailblazers is preserving – as told by some of the people who witnessed it.


Karen Lally, Operations and Development Manager at CommunityGrows, shares her memories of Barb: 

“Barb is such a warm, dedicated, and sincere person. One of the many things I appreciate about Barb is how passionate she is about this neighborhood- she speaks her mind and gives a lot of her time and energy doing hands-on work to create better spaces, programs, and even politics in SF. She cares deeply for her coworkers and friends, offering her time to support events, improve the feng shui in our office, have lunch dates, and check in with us regularly. I also love hearing about and seeing her artwork- not only does she take beautiful photos, but she paints as well. I’m amazed at all the things she has accomplished, all of the things she is now creating, and how much she shares herself and her gifts with the community! 


I didn’t “officially” work with Barb for that long, but her legacy and presence is still very much felt at CommunityGrows. Besides seeing her connect with so many people at community events (it seriously seems like she knows everyone!), one of my favorite memories of Barb was during the Rebuilding Together Prep Day 2019. This was one of my biggest projects with CommunityGrows and one that the whole staff spent a lot of time organizing and supporting. It was a beautiful day in April- the sun was shining, there was a breeze coming through the garden, and 30+ women had shown up on a Saturday to work on projects with us. Barb seemed really happy to see the space active and continuing to expand and grow with so many amazing women building, planting, and painting in the garden. I remember feeling happy that we pulled the project together, and I remember feeling grateful for her ideas and encouragement during the whole process. Thank you Barb, for all you have done, and continue to do, for us!”


Anna Luberoff, Garden Program Manager,  worked with Wenger over the past two years, expresses

“I remember so well the first time I ever met Barb, which was at my interview for the Rosa Parks Garden Educator position. I was talking about how much I love cover crop seeds, and she said, in a friendly way, “you might just be crazy enough for this job!” It was hilarious, but also made me realize that I was in the right place–you do have to have a healthy sense of humor to do this every day! I also remember being so blown away at Barb’s retirement party, which happened right after I started. It was so amazing to see so many people celebrating the work of such an amazing woman. It gave me such an appreciation for Barb’s passion for this work, for CG, and for her community. It also reminded me of the power of grassroots organizations like CG, and how important community is in creating positive change. Barb is one of a kind, and I always love seeing her at CG events (because I know I’ll get the best hug!)” 


When Wenger retired in 2017,  she left some very big shoes to be filled.. Happily, our current Executive Director Kelly ErnstFriedman was there to pick up the baton and has done a wonderful job in her position. ErnstFriedman has ten plus years experience in the non-profit and education fields. Prior to joining CommunityGrows in April 2014 as the Director of Programs, she was the Program Director for Food Shift, where she developed and oversaw a food recovery and donation program within the Oakland Unified School District and managed a staff of 36 interns and volunteers. ErnstFriedman has also served as a consultant for Bay Area non-profits, providing program development, strategic planning, and grant management leadership. In 2010, she completed her doctorate in Cultural Anthropology with a concentration in Race, Gender, and Social Justice at American University.

Anna shares these memories of her time working with Kelly:

“Kelly came into her role as ED at a very difficult time for CG. Not only has she steered us into better financial waters, but she did so with so much grace, poise, and positivity. I trust Kelly so much and know she always has our backs, no matter what. I know she’s taking us great places, and that she’ll do so honestly, with integrity, and with the best interests of her staff and the larger CG community in mind. She is a gifted leader, and I am so honored and delighted to get to work with her every day. Kelly is a gem!” 


Karen, who has been working with Kelly for just over 2 years, says this about Kelly:

“Kelly, in a word, is amazing. She has such a generous and thoughtful approach to leadership, always making a point to check-in and connects with the team. She is caring and kind, focused and dedicated, and takes on a lot to create a positive work and learning culture in CommunityGrows. One thing that has always impressed me about Kelly is her ability to “roll with the punches” and adapt to the chaos and change that is working in the nonprofit sector. Despite some stressful times, she continues to be a rock for our team and always shows up for CommunityGrows. We appreciate her so much! 

My favorite memories of Kelly are probably the little things that happen around the office from day to day. I remember when she was pregnant; Kelly had severe coffee envy and could sniff the air and accurately guess what flavor coffee I was drinking. I love our many, somewhat successful office-cleaning parties, where we set ambitious goals and never touch the filing cabinet (except to put more stuff in, of course). I love when she shows random funny videos and photos of her kids, and any time she reminisces about Texas- especially when the phrase “bless her heart” is involved. I laugh when I think about the time she taught me how to use Instagram and how excited we get whenever we figure out something IT/tech related. I felt very lucky and happy when she asked me to stay on after both my AmeriCorps contracts had ended, and I look forward to many more memories with CommunityGrows and the wonderful people who work here!”


We would to thank Barbara Wenger and Kelly ErnstFriedman for opening doors for all of us in the non-profit community, we appreciate all you do! 

“I was very nervous before my first day at Community Grows. I arrived at our first meeting though and was greeted with baked goods and genuine conversation. Kindness, generosity, and warmth are standard practice here. It has been hard in the past to imagine a workplace where tons of things get done at the same time as valuing and practicing care and compassion, but now that I see it in action Kelly makes it look easy.” Ms. Persing says all of our thoughts when we first joined CommunityGrows. There could not  be better people to open these doors for us!