Bess Srahulek showcases her new garden. Students and neighbours worked to repair the damage to her garden caused by a rowdy homecoming street party. Courtesy of Maya Bielecki

After partygoers create mayhem, students step up to repair garden

  • October 16, 2017
Students in London, Ont., learned a valuable lesson about loving your neighbour.

After an unsanctioned homecoming street party destroyed the garden of a beloved neighbour, students from Western University, King’s University College and Brescia College came to the rescue.

“I’ve lived here for a long time and the latter years have started to become more destructive,” said 87-year-old Bess Srahulek. “I knew that there’s another side (to students) but I was seeing the one side that were troublemakers.”

Srahulek saw her garden destroyed after a rowdy student street party Sept. 30. The flowers in the front yard were completely trampled. One of the back windows on the second floor was broken. The fence, a rose trellis and some bushes in the back yard were destroyed.

When student neighbours saw the damage, third-year Western University student Maya Bielecki decided to do something about it.

On Oct. 2, Bielecki launched a campaign to raise $400 for Srahulek’s garden repairs. Within hours, the campaign raised $940 from students and neighbours.

The fundraising campaign quickly gained traction as more community members learned about it. Srahulek gained a new nickname as the “Broughdale Grandma.” Within six days, the campaign raised $2,237 of their new goal of $2,500. Srahulek is a regular parishioner at King’s University College’s parish, Christ the King. When pastor Fr. Michael Béchard heard about Srahulek’s garden, he brought the campaign to the attention of King’s Dean of Students, Joe Henry.

“Everyone here at King’s and in our community took an interest in ensuring that a member of our community who was hurting was able to be helped,” said Henry. “I think that shows what King’s and more importantly, what students could do to not only acknowledge the negative behaviour, but make amends and come through the other side in a positive way.”

On Oct. 4, Henry, along with community members from Western, King’s and Brescia, came with rakes and shovels to rebuild Srahulek’s garden. King’s provided a truck to bring in new plants. A local landscaping company came by to offer free labour.

“The kids were working like crazy and I thought, ‘Now you’re looking at community,’ ” said Srahulek. “Now that I’ve met them, I hope to see them more.”

Srahulek has lived on Broughdale Ave. since 1960. She has watched the area change from a family-friendly cul-de-sac to a student-populated neighbourhood.

She and her late husband John bought the house as a young couple and raised four children. Now that her children have moved out and her husband died in 2007, she lives alone.

Srahulek is no stranger to student parties late at night, but she had not witnessed such rowdiness before the unsanctioned homecoming street party Sept. 30. More than 11,000 people crowded Broughdale Ave. for a “fake Homecoming,” according to police.

In anticipation of the event, Western president Amit Chakma released a letter a day before, warning students they would be held accountable for their actions. London Police warned partygoers that strict security measures would be in place.

Despite these warnings, Middlesex-London EMS responded to 54 calls, with 37 people hospitalized. London Police laid 60 charges and almost 1,000 warnings.

Srahulek was home the whole night. She watched as partygoers began to trickle into the street at around 9 p.m.

“Having student neighbours is not too bad as a rule, but this one was worse,” she said. “We got a lovely letter from the (Western) president asking them not to do it.... I was hopeful when I read the letter that the kids would listen, but I was very disappointed.”

As the night wore on, the crowd became more rambunctious. She started seeing young people peeing in between the houses. A crowd of boys began to form in her back yard and fights broke out.

It was only as the party died down in the early morning that she saw the damage.

Now, her garden has never looked better, said Srahulek.

“First thing in the morning, I would still wake up and look out the window to make sure that it wasn’t a dream and it was really there,” she said.

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