My project will entail designing and building a large home garden at two shelters for youth (one for boys, one for girls) run by our nonprofit youth services agency. All of the youth we serve have suffered trauma in one form or another, mostly through abuse, neglect or both. These traumatized youth suffer in school, in social circles and have been involved in the juvenile justice system. Many of these youth have dropped out of school or are far behind their peers, have had little positive adult influences in their lives and their health and health behaviors are poor. Hale Kipa has just launched an educational program to help these youth catch up with their classwork -- or reengage -- while they are in our shelters. Our shelters are not schools, but we are considered eligible for the School Lunch Program federal funding. As such, we must now adhere to more restrictive food preparation guidelines that hope to improve the lunches served to school-aged youth nationwide. I see a very logical nexus between our educational program, the need for fresh produce to satisfy School Lunch Program guidelines and the need to help youth learn about ways to eat better and improve their overall health. All we need at each of our two shelters is a home garden to serve as "classroom" and "lab"! With a garden in their backyard, shelter youth will learn gardening basics (the UH College of Trop Ag will provide 6 free lessons on gardening!), how to provide proper plant nutrition, garden maintainance, how and when to pick the produce, food preparation and, of course, the appreciation of fresh produce and home grown goodness from the garden. Nutrition and cooking basics will round out the garden-based curriculum. Our hope is that the care and feeding of fruits, vegetables, and herbs will not only provide a fun way to learn about good health but, importantly, will provide a place and activity for youth to heal. Think of this as the vegetable version of animal-assisted therapy!
Funded by Oahu, HI (January 2013)