Lewis Ginter’s Youth Volunteer Program Offers Meaningful Volunteer Experiences
by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden
The Children’s Garden has many fans. But some of its biggest supporters don’t know about everything that happens in the Children’s Garden. When you think of the Children’s Garden, you might think of the accessible-to-all tree house, festivals, art projects, or toddlers watering plants with sponges. You might even think of WaterPlay or the Gnome Depot where children can build fairy houses. Or you might think of children climbing and eating berries out of our mildly famous 100-year-old mulberry tree. If you know us well, or have young children, you might be familiar with our summer camps for kids and our daily field trip ritual of teaching elementary school kids and preschoolers all about plants.
But, you might not know that we also have youth who volunteer (and learn) here at the Garden. From March through October, The Children’s Garden Service Learning Program provides middle and high school age students with the chance to explore career opportunities in a non-profit work environment while accumulating community service hours. Students develop a strong work ethic, learn valuable life skills, gain practical work experience and are exposed to the human relationship with nature.
If a young adult is interested in a program just when school is out, The Youth Volunteer Program offers volunteer experiences for youth ages 13 – 18, for one of two 5-week sessions in the summer. Youth Volunteers meet Tuesday & Thursday morning and have both instructional time and hands on learning in the Garden.
Most recently, the youth volunteers taken on a project to grow herbs for our in-house caterer Meriwether Godsey. We’re calling this project the Full Circle Garden because for the past year-and-a-half the Service Learning students have been collecting kitchen scraps from The Garden Cafe and composting them in the Children’s Garden. Some of that compost is ready, and so youth volunteers along with their teacher, and Children’s Garden Educator, Erin Wright, moved it to a special small garden plot behind the Conservatory where they have amended the soil and planted fresh herbs (dill & basil) for the Garden Cafe menu. Feel free to stop by and check it out on your next visit!
Two of our interns, Clarity Cotman, who is also working with Partnership for the Future and Clarissa Schick, also working with a US Department of Education program called Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow, have been instrumental in this project. So far, the Garden Cafe has made 3 quarts of pesto with the basil. But that is not all that they’ve done. They study a curriculum including:
- Soil health
- Food Production/ Food Systems
- Integrated Pest Management (IPM) in the Conservatory
- Plants for healing (emotionally and physically)
- Careers in Horticulture
- Native and Invasive species
Plus, they’ve been spending lots of time weeding, watering and harvesting vegetables for our Community Kitchen Garden, which is like a mini-farm — growing 10,000 lbs. of produce for FeedMore‘s Central Virginia Food Bank, The Community Kitchen and Meals on Wheels of Central Virginia.
Kelly Riley, Children’s Education Coordinator, says “Through these innovative programs, Erin is able to provide meaningful experiences for our youth volunteers and educate them about our interdependence with the plant world. You could say, Erin is doing her part to grow our next generation of gardeners or steward of our planet!”
Teacher & mentor Erin Wright says, “Through the Youth Volunteer Program, we hope to provide an opportunity for youth to make a meaningful connection to both the effort and the resources involved in growing food. We are learning to care for the plants, yes, but also how to care for the soil and how to be thoughtful about how we treat the debris and refuse. We try to teach the youth, as we remind ourselves, that we operate within a food system — that each part of that system influences each of the other parts, and the choices we make matter. Our work in the Full Circle Garden and the Community Kitchen Garden reminds us that when we are responsible producers, someone else can be a healthier consumer. To me, that is an incredible life lesson.”