Garden helps youngsters grow

July 3, 2009 (CHICAGO) A social agency known for helping out in a time of crisis is coming together with a community trying to protect its children. The result: a tiny little garden that's reaping really big rewards.

Youngsters are working in their garden in West Pullman, and they are living the dream of a middle school science teacher.

"All these principles, everything we're doing out here is directly related to everything in a textbook: from photosynthesis to germination to soil and minerals. You can talk about the weather, cloud formations, insects, and pollination," Monte Sier, of Higgins Community Academy, said.

It's part of a partnership between the Higgins Community Academy and the Salvation Army; a two-week summer day-camp for fourth through eighth grade. The students do everything from building the flower beds to planting and caring for vegetables, herbs and flowers, all while getting great life lessons.

"Learning about the environment, teamwork, learning about fairness, tolerance, through these programs and that's what the kids need today, because they learn so much differently on the streets," Principal Dr. Mabel Alford said.

In an often-violent neighborhood, the Salvation Army says a little garden can make all the difference.

"Just a few blocks away from here last week there was a shooting. You can see how young people are taking life. It shows us the importance of the Salvation Army creating safe havens for kids to be during the summer. But it also shows the value of life and nurturing life as they're doing here with fruits and vegetables," Major Darlene Harvey, of the Salvation Army, said.

"Flowers are like people. You have to give them certain things they need at a certain time," fifth grader Sharielle Neal said.

But it's not all serious business. These young people are having fun.

"They gave me a plant, and me and my grandmother have a garden at home and I grew tomatoes and I cooked fried green tomatoes," sixth grader Ariel Taylor said.

"Everything this represents: this is nature. It's gorgeous. We reap something from this," Taylor's grandmother Barbara Van Hughes said.

Most of this produce will be ready for harvest by fall. And these young farmers have big plans for the big plants.

"We're going to have vegetables for sale to the community and hopefully we will…last year we had the community come together. We took the vegetables and cooked them in the kitchen. We saw people from the community we never saw before. We were in the kitchen. Kids were all cooking and slicing up the vegetables, frying them up and everybody sat down for about an hour," Sier said.

"When I see those people receiving those fruits and vegetables I feel like we've helped out in the world," ninth grader Bryant Harris said.

This is the second year for the green day-camp. The Salvation Army hopes to expand the program as they prepare to open their multimillion dollar Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in the area in a couple of years.

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