Humans of Sweet Water...Meet Kolenda "Kokoa" Rattler Davis

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Kolenda “Kokoa” Rattler Davis is a local resident who grew up in the Washington Park neighborhood. Since she started volunteering at Sweet Water Foundation in 2015, Kokoa has become much more than a volunteer. She is an important member of the Sweet Water Foundation team and family who shares her time, skills, connections, and memory of the neighborhood with the SWF community.

Read on to learn more about Kokoa.


What is your role at SWF?

I’m a volunteer. I do weeding, gardening, and I help out in the kitchen on days when we have big groups of people. I live in a building where grandparents are taking care of their grandchildren, so I harvest the crops and take them to feed senior citizens and their grandkids. I like to help feed people healthy food.



Tell us a little about your background.

I moved to the area when I was 3 years old, and have lived in the neighborhood since then. I love my neighborhood. I love Washington Park.

I went to a head start for preschool and then attend the Carter School of Excellence at 57th and Michigan. As I said, I’ve been living here in the neighborhood for most of my life. I moved to the West Side for a year, but it didn’t feel right, so I came back home. Now, I live in a senior building. It’s a place where grandparents are taking care of their grandchildren.  

My first husband passed away, and I’m with my second husband now. I have 6 children, 13 grandkids, and 4 great-grandchildren. They all live nearby, and I love to see them and spend time with them.



Can you tell us a little bit about your community?

I remember when I was younger… all my friends moved away, and all the buildings were being torn down. As a child, I was scared because I didn’t know where we were going to move if they tore all the buildings down. Well, they tore everything down, and now when you look around, there are a lot of empty buildings and vacant lots. Nothing seems to be changing. But at Sweet Water Foundation, everything is new and always changing. There is always something new here - this place is my sanctuary.

How did you become involved in Sweet Water Foundation?

I came by Sweet Water Foundation because I noticed that amidst the emptiness, there was something happening here. Sweet Water Foundation had the only house standing in the whole area. I thought to myself, “What’s going on over there? I’m going to go see what they’re doing!” I didn’t want to disturb them, but I asked Emmanuel what he was doing and if it was okay for me to volunteer and get some greens. He told me about the work they’re doing at Sweet Water Foundation and welcomed me to volunteer. I started out doing some weeding, donating money, and helping out on the farm. Then, I started meeting people and began helping out in the kitchen. I love everyone I meet here. I also love that it’s so quiet here. It’s like being in the countryside right across the street from a big, loud city. That’s one of the reasons I keep coming back.



What does Sweet Water Foundation mean to you?

One of the things I noticed since I started volunteering here is the number of people who know about SWF and are impacted by SWF. I started taking home greens for the people who live in my building and have been doing that for a while now. Once, Emmanuel asked me how many people I feed - I had never thought about that before! At first, I was bringing food to 20 or 30 people, but now, I give food to people who give food to others. Someone who lives in my building said she fed 171 people with the greens I brought her.  I also found out that a woman I bring greens to is the grandmother of Zach - He was one of the apprentices who first helped Emmanuel at SWF!

Another connection is the man I work for. He attended Moseley School. That was the school for “bad boys” that was located at the site where the farm and Thought Barn are now. He’s very old now, but Emmanuel wants to try to talk with him about his experiences. It’s a small world. The connections I’ve made just by bringing greens to people help me know this is where I’m supposed to be. I’ve been here for about 3 years, and I still enjoy it!

Do you learn from people here?

Definitely! Every day I come over here, I learn something. I’m talking about the young, the old, the ones my age. I learn how to build things and plant food. Actually, just the other day, someone taught me about Juneteenth! They definitely didn’t teach me about Juneteenth in school. It’s a day about independence and freedom.  That’s another reason why I keep coming back because I want to to keep learning.

What else would you like to see here at SWF?

My mother took her home care provider for a ride, and they drove by SWF. It happened to be a day that SWF brought seniors over to enjoy the site. Soon after, I walked into the Think-Do House and there’s my mother’s picture on the wall! I was like, “I’m here all of the time. Why is my mother on the wall? You all take thousands of pictures of me, and not one of me is on the wall!” I’d like to see a picture of me on the wall.

But seriously, I’m just excited to meet new people and hang out with people here at Sweet Water Foundation. Emmanuel brings a lot of different people together, and we’re all glad and happy together.

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Jia Li Pratt