Herald-Whig View

Seed of an idea grows into network that helps at-risk teens

Posted: Jul. 11, 2017 9:45 am

THE symbolism is perfect. A work program being administered through the Quincy Community Garden Coalition might help grow the future of some at-risk teens.

The Quincy Community Garden Coalition is a network of 10 community gardens, and organizers are providing opportunities for the teens to not only better themselves, but their community, too.

Dana Caley, who is involved with the Indian Hills Community Garden at Fifth and Harrison, was one of the people who came up with the concept of employing the at-risk teens.

"We are able to take older kids and give them a job, which gives them dignity and purpose, and I think that's a really big deal," Caley said.

The program also incorporates a pay-it-forward type of thinking. Organizers envision some of the teens who are currently involved will eventually serve as mentors to others in their age group.

Among the skills the teens learn from coalition members are how to manage and oversee the gardens, plus how to budget their time.

Sarah Fernandez, a member of the coalition, said the work program is flexible and can be adjusted around school schedules. Fernandez estimates the garden work will last until late October or early November.

She said grants through the community garden grant program offered by Hy-Vee have supported community gardens over the last six years.

"One small seed grew into this whole coalition network," Fernandez said.

Even if not intended, the symbolism was again perfect.

The program also allows the participating teens to be part of an ongoing agricultural experience they might not otherwise have an opportunity to examine.

One of the participants, Bradley Eston, recently spoke of his work at the Indian Hills and Hampshire Street gardens.

"I will weed, if weeding is needed, and I sometimes harvest," Eston said.

The gardening process is also more than simply educational. At the Hampshire Street garden, for example, harvested cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and other produce are taken to the food pantry at Horizons Social Services to assist its daily meals for people in need.

Gardens that are a part of the Quincy Community Garden Coalition are at Eighth and Elm, Quincy University (20th and Elm), Blessing Health System (Ninth and Elm), Eighth and Hampshire, Ninth and Vermont, Salem Evangelical United Church of Christ Church (Tenth and State), Indian Hills Community Garden (Fifth and Harrison), Hy-Vee (1400 Harrison), York Street (west of Sixth Street) and the Salvation Army (west side of the thrift store).

The coalition has also worked with Teen Reach participants and have had them assist with bringing vegetables in the garden "from seed to plant to plate." The University of Illinois Extension has assisted with the process.

"They also helped by teaching the kids how to make certain things with the vegetable," Caley said. "They were eating things they would have never eaten before."

Long-range coalition plans include working with property owners to create even more gardening opportunities around the city.

It's an idea that deserves to grow.