Garden project sees kids’ confidence, skill sets grow

Jonathan Morale as he rakes a raised garden bed. [Photo: Kaila Jones]

Youth Guidance Mentoring Academy participants, volunteers and staff got their hands dirty recently, building three raised beds and filling them with vegetable topsoil for a Community Garden project. The collaborative agricultural venture with Keep Indian River Beautiful, Sunrise Rotary and the Junior League of Indian River is one of several programs in the works to teach vocational skill sets.

The actual planting will take place in the fall, once the heat of the summer has subsided. They also planted a mango tree that day and painted pallets for eventual herb gardens. Tomato plants and strawberries are planned for other areas in the now fenced-in Youth Guidance property.

“The goal is a Gardening and Agricultural program for the kids. Teaching them how to grow and then eventually having them sell the seedlings and produce at a farmers market, to learn the ins and outs of that,” said Phil Barnes, YG executive director.

“Keep Indian River Beautiful and Lowe’s donated a grant to do community-improvement projects,” explained Daisy Packer, KIRB executive director. “Sunrise also gave a $500 grant for the seeds that we’re going to purchase for the next year, and they’re the ones who bought the mango tree for us.”

They plan to teach the younger children gardening basics, with the older participants taking it a step further. Barns said they want to teach them how to harvest and cook the produce, as well as how to make a business out of selling the crops.

Earlier this summer, Orchid Island Bikes & Kayaks and Bike Walk Indian River County partnered on a new program to teach older students bike mechanics and bike safety. The students reaped the benefits of their hard work by raising $1,500 recently through their own bike sale.

“It was great; all that money is going to go toward compensating the kids now. We’re going to start paying them for the work they’re doing,” said Barnes, adding they also imparted the importance of saving and using that money wisely. “So it goes way beyond the building of a bike. It’s the full vocational circle and we want the gardening program to be that too.”

A new sewing room has been set up with donated sewing machines, where students are learning to make tote bags. While they’ll likely keep the initial items they make, other things could be sold in the future.

In the fall, Barnes said they will partner with Youth Sailing Foundation volunteers to teach boat mechanics, starting with four participants working on a donated boat and trailer.

“Once they get it back up in good condition, hopefully they can take it out on the water and enjoy a little fishing trip,” said Barnes. “And then we’re going to sell the boat and split the proceeds between the two charities.”

Future plans include teaching cosmetology, cooking, plumbing and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) skills.

“We’ve got a lot of things going on that are exciting. And then with the younger kids, we’re going to stick with STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), but the projects all kind of connect with each other,” said Barnes.

For instance, younger children could begin by building a house out of Legos, transitioning as they age to constructing a wooden birdhouse, and then learning mechanical skills.

“What we want to do is really give our kids the best shot to succeed in the real world. It’s almost like a business incubator for our older kids. We’re trying to give them mentors to teach skills that they need,” said Barnes. “The community is so on board; there’s a lot of collaboration going on. It’s really exciting to see.”

Photos by: Kaila Jones
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