Hope Grows More Than Plants
The brightly colored flowers lined up in pretty rows in the Hope Grows greenhouses have more stories to tell than most. The same can be said for the well-manicured lawns around the Palmer Home campus and the deep red poinsettias purchased from Hope Grows at Christmas.
On summer mornings at 8:30 Monday through Thursday, a group of sleepy-eyed teenagers punch the clock to start their work day. They think they are learning to grow plants and mow lawns, but the lessons stretch all the way from work ethic to plant science and math.
Regina Livingston, Greenhouse Assistant and Barn Manager, supervises Palmer Home’s summer work program. For many years, the teenage boys who were mature enough to handle a job worked in the Hope Grows Community Share Agriculture (CSA). They grew crops that were sold in baskets to the community.
This year, however, the CSA was discontinued and the summer work program expanded to include all boys and girls 13-18 years old. Work schedules are customized around school-related activities like sports, tutoring and summer reading programs. In addition, older children with off-campus jobs are excused from the campus summer work program.
“It’s just like having a job,” explains Livingston. “They earn chore money and they learn about showing up on time, clocking into work, bringing their own water, following safety guidelines and a dress code and code of conduct.” The children are divided into groups with some working in the green houses to plant and germinate seeds, others selling plants through the greenhouses, and another group working with Mary Tuggle, Greenhouse/Grounds Manager, to mow lawns and keep the Palmer Home campus looking pristine.
Although Palmer Home no longer offers the CSA, the summer work program continues to grow tomatoes and corn for campus use. Children in the program are taught to calculate fertilizer rates, irrigation amounts, and how much of a crop they need to plant to feed their entire cottage.
Children who participate in the lawn maintenance program learn how to use the lawn mowers, weed eaters, and edgers. They also learn how to care for the equipment by changing the oil and tires. While not all the children are excited about spending their mornings working outside, the payoff in growing worth ethics and teaching valuable skills will be a lesson they carry into their future.
Livingston tells about a boy who started with the summer work program shortly after he arrived at Palmer Home. He was angry at the world and spent a lot of time refusing to participate. He and Mary Tuggle had several heart-to-heart conversations about his situation and his attitude. To everyone’s surprise, once he began to get more involved in the campus work, he proved to be the hardest working child in the program. Last year he even earned the community service award given at the end of the school year by Palmer Home CEO & President, Drake Bassett.
For the first summer in many years, this young man is not working the summer program. He started as an intern with a local business off campus and was asked to stay on as an employee because of his hard work. He has graduated from high school and will start college this fall.
“With the thirteen year olds, it’s challenging for the first six months to a year,” said Livingston. “But then they get past that, and they gain valuable skills and learn about helping others.”
The summer program is the busiest time for Livingston and Tuggle. They have nineteen children working with them this summer. When school starts, the number will dwindle to eight or nine due to many students’ involvement in after-school activities.In August, they’ll begin to plan the annual crop of poinsettias, which require a lot of attention. The children will come before school to remove plastic covers from the plants and return to replace the covers after school is over. This process makes sure the plants bloom just in time for the Christmas holiday season.
The work of restoring lives isn’t always easy or fun, but it’s amazing what a little time outdoors learning about work and business can do to heal hearts. It’s where Hope Grows best.