Youth Harvest teen presents at national summit
Jesse first dug into the dirt two years ago at the school garden at Willard Alternative High School. His teacher saw how he flourished in the garden, and suggested he apply to work with Garden City Harvest’s Youth Harvest Project at the GCH/EVST PEAS Farm last summer. He did, and loved it so much he returned as an intern and mentor this summer.
This would be a big deal for any teen, and for Jesse, who has overcome some substance abuse and been what he calls couch surfing for over two years before moving back in with his mom, this is something of a life-changing opportunity. Jesse has been a natural leader all of his life, helping his single mom with the household when she was struggling with alcoholism. He helped take care of his twin brother and two other siblings for several years, making meals and cleaning the house.
“You can almost see Jesse changing before your eyes,” said Laurie Strand Bridgeman, Director of the Youth Harvest Project. “He’s gone from a shy, quiet kid to someone with a quick smile and an encouraging word to peers and adults alike.”
The Youth Harvest Project works with six to eight teens each summer referred from the Missoula Youth Drug Court and Willard Alternative High School.
“I like knowing that when I showed up to the farm…that I was appreciated and accepted there.” Jesse said. “It feels great knowing I did something good. I don’t have to fake it. I enjoy being around all the plants. I like the people.”
“These kids are working side by side with volunteers, university students, and Garden City Harvest staff,” said Youth Harvest Director Laurie Strand Bridgeman. “They teach each other about different parts of the Missoula community, different life experiences.” And they work together, bending down to weed the carrots.
This program changes lives. Digging in the dirt has been known to heal and teach. These teens are living examples. They also have weekly group and one on one sessions throughout the summer with Strand Bridgeman, a licensed clinical Social Worker.
Jesse says he feels drastically different since last April.
“I learned responsibility here,” he said. Time management, goal setting, and a connection to something larger than him – to people, to food. He likes the hard work.
That change has manifested in Jesse’s accepted application to conduct a 45 minute presentation at Rooted in Community’s 2013 Youth Leadership Summit in Los Angeles, California July 24 – 28 and Jesse will be presenting on the 25 or 26th. He will be presenting on the Youth Harvest Project and Garden City Harvest.
The Rooted In Community National Network is a national grassroots network that empowers young people to take leadership in their own communities. Rooted in Community is a diverse movement of youth and adults working together and committed to fostering healthy communities and food justice through urban and rural agriculture, community gardening, food security, and related environmental justice work. This year’s conference focuses on stories that honor the inherent wisdom and social capital of our communities, including sustainable food production efforts. Youth and mentors will share tools to ensure that their community development efforts create leadership and equity, green jobs and youth social enterprise.
Jesse simply hopes that he will learn a little more about farming, gardening, and how he can make a living doing what he loves. “I am excited about the experience it will bring me – it will only boost my knowledge so I can keep [farming] for the rest of my life.”