~ By Brooke
Last July my coworkers and I volunteered at the local native plant nursery operated by the parks department as part of our monthly “going green” efforts. The seeds we harvested will be planted throughout the city in public parks and green spaces. While we picked seeds and cleaned garden beds in our very green, lush city of Eugene, Oregon, thousands of miles away teens were also gardening. But the teens were rooftop gardening in the concrete jungle of New York City. Youth residents from Covenant House New York, an agency that serves homeless, runaway, and at-risk youth, have teamed up with Seeding the City to create a matrix of rooftop gardens in New York City. Such a project brings a vast array of opportunities for these youth.
Seeding the City is a large-scale project by Eve Mosher, who hopes to accomplish several goals:
- Introducing a diverse audience to urban environmental issues and remediation through active and deep participation
- To provide knowledge and skills for communities to develop, and individuals to gain confidence and understanding around environmental issues
- To provide easy access to participating in a complex global discussion.
Ms. Mosher hopes to reach these goals by involving various individuals in green projects, like the rooftop gardening activity with Covenant House New York.
For youth, particularly homeless youth, there are numerous benefits to being included in such a project. Athana Kontinos from Covenant House New York coordinated this project with Seeding the City, and she was able to share some of her thoughts with me. Ms. Kontinos believes this venture is important because “the youth will be involved in a project from start to finish.” She noted that “due to their situations, many of the youth we serve have not had the opportunity to complete anything.” She also shared her hope that the youth will benefit from being involved in a selfless project that “gives back” to the community. Says Ms. Kontinos, “The feelings they are getting are wonderful for [the teens’] self-esteem, sense of accomplishment, and community.” Ms. Mosher echoed that thought with her expectation that the youth will benefit from “having a chance to participate in a project that will reach out into many neighborhoods in the city [and feel] pride in being part of a large project.”
This partnership with Seeding the City can also teach youth about the importance of being eco-friendly and paying mind to their impact on the environment. Ms. Kontinos believes “this is only the first step in a hopefully long process of teaching the clients the importance of living with others in mind and showing the effects it has on their lives as well.” This opportunity of reaching out and learning new things can “open their minds up to many different issues, including environmental, social and economic.”
In case others are interested in trying out a gardening program with youth, I asked Ms. Kontinos to share some tips. She suggests:
- Know your audience. How can you engage them? Covenant House New York “used the ideas of being a part of something larger and interacting with each other in a social setting.”
- Incorporate the other benefits of the project. For rooftop gardening, another benefit would be the opportunity to see the city from a tall building.
- Build community partnerships. Often times there are small groups and organizations in a community that are already working on projects aligned with your goal, or they already have funding and volunteers. Ms. Kontinos spent a couple of months researching these groups before partnering with one.
I’m so excited this project is going on in New York City, and I hope youth workers elsewhere can be inspired by this. The time invested in such a project is well worth it, considering how valuable it can be to both youth and the local community. Not only is it great for the environment, but the youth can learn so much about the world and themselves with a project like this.