We responded to Cherease Glaspar’s application for a Gardening Know How sponsorship with a resounding yes. She is at the helm of the Kinder Youth Gardens in Harris County, Texas.
The Harris County Kinder Shelter program exists to provide young victims of child abuse, as well as runaway and homeless youth, with holistic resources to teach them skillsets that will benefit them into adulthood.
Children at the Kinder Youth Gardens have usually arrived by way of Harris County’s protective services for children and adults. They often come here on a non-voluntary basis through the schools and courts, but this is also a safe shelter for kids who may be homeless or having problems at home. The good people here work on placing these children and finding services for them so that if and when they return home, the services are in place. Services and education are offered to parents, as well, such as workshops for common sense parenting. The center is open 24 hours a day, and therapists are available for guidance at any time.
The former director of the program was with this agency for forty years. Over time she had made numerous requests for a garden within the shelter’s grounds, knowing that the best thing for these young people would be to get outside and experience healthy physical activity. The garden was her last request before she retired. The executive director was able to find the money in their budget and, along with hard work and community donations, five raised garden beds materialized on the property. Cherease says, “With a blessing and a prayer” the garden was furnished with seeds, soil and the energy to get it going last year.
Leadership and Gardening
When Cherease and the staff asked what kids and their parents wanted from the agency, they took the response to heart. The parents and children wanted a positive youth program that would teach leadership skills with a focus on at-risk kids. The garden turns out to be a great forum for practicing leadership skills.
Kids who are involved in learning leadership skills help other kids in shelter, as well as in the garden. As a group, they talk a lot about asset-building, and working the garden falls into that category. They’ve partnered with a local grocery store for obtaining buckets. The kids plant their vegetables and flowers in their own buckets and take plants along with them when they leave the program. They’ve also learned how to carefully transplant growing tomato plants into buckets so they can be taken home.
Cherease and the kids do everything in the garden. Cherease oversees the process, and the children plant what they want. This often includes tomatoes, peppers, hot peppers and bell peppers. They plan to grow cucumbers in the summer, and some want sunflowers. In fact, one garden bed is dedicated to sunflowers. Young people at the shelter are invited to do what they know and what they’re good at in the garden. For some, turning the soil is a rewarding activity, and others enjoy watering and feeding the plants
Cherease enjoys explaining the cycles of plant growth: from seed to sprout, and how the small yellow flower on a tomato plant will turn into a green tomato, which will eventually grow and turn red. This is fascinating to her students, and they often take photos of each stage of the plant to look back and see the process. They have recently been learning on the Gardening Know How site about how to propagate sweet potatoes.
Along with Cherease, the kids do most of the maintenance work. Some retirees return to do volunteer work and there are a couple of staff members who like to help out.
Produce from the garden is shared among the kids and staff. This year they are practicing a farm to table theme, learning to cook with whatever they’ve planted. The agency holds bi-weekly cooking classes. A chef comes in and teaches the kids to make salads and basil pesto with produce they’ve grown and harvested from the basil they’ve grown in cups. Any excess produce is donated to the Houston food bank. On Earth Day this year the kids volunteered at the park garden where they observed different kinds of gardens.
The agency is supporting Cherease as she studies to become a Master Gardener at the Texas A&M extension service. All her mandated volunteer hours are spent at this garden.
The very idea that children can be homeless or displaced is disturbing, but with agencies like this one, they are afforded experiences they would not otherwise get. We’re honored to be able to help out, and hope for the best for all of these kids. We thank Cherease and her co-workers as we, too, are learning the incredible value of involving children in gardening.
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help.