Garden of Youth

Summer 2011

America’s Promise Alliance took its interns to the Boys and Girls Club of Alexandria for a day of gardening with countless young, smiling, and very hyper kids. The Club began a gardening project with America’s Promise Chair Alma Powell, Mayor Euille, and other Club members as part of President Obama’s 2009 United We Serve summer service initiative.

When we arrived one afternoon this past June, the kids greeted Alliance Executive Vice President Melinda Hudson, a weekly visitor, with tight squeezes, ear-to-ear grins, and many, many giggles. They scrambled downstairs to the craft room to paint empty milk jugs that we would use for our innovative watering system for the garden. “Can I please have green?” asks one little boy, as five others chime in, “May I have the white, and red, and purple please?” I ran around the tables squirting paint on paper plates, complimenting them on such fabulous artwork. They even shared plates of paint while concentrating on their masterpieces. One boy decided to paint his hand instead.

In the garden, the kids shoveled dirt and weeded, while the interns assisted in planting peppers, cucumber, corn, and tomatoes. “Who wants a blueberry!” Melinda exclaimed holding a small tree. A handful of excited kids rushed over to her, their tiny fingers plucking blueberries off the tree. They were learning from where their foods come, how they grow, and how to take care of the environment. They were developing a sense of ownership and responsibility while unconsciously learning how to work effectively as a team.

With unplanted pepper plant in hand, I asked a little girl to help me. “Do you want to dig the hole for this pepper plant?” I asked her. “Yes,” she replied shyly, nodding, and kneeled down in the dirt to shovel. After a few minutes, she had dug a hole, but not deep enough for the plant. “We have to make sure the hole is deep enough or else it will fall over,” I encouraged her, placing the plant in the hole to show her that it was too small. “Oh!” she exclaimed excitedly, and kept digging. Then I handed her the pepper plant, teaching her how to gently place it in the dirt. Through these few minutes I spent with her, I noticed that her smile grew wider, and her eyes gleamed with confidence and satisfaction at this newly discovered skill.

Meanwhile, others made wooden supports for the milk jugs, holes poked in them to slowly drip water on the plants below. The kids learned how to create a watering system that would keep the plants nourished if the kids forgot to water them. “This is the best day ever!” shrieked one kid to Melinda.

Serving at the Boys and Girls Club was more than just a service project for the Alliance interns. After the Alliance partnered with the Boys and Girls Club, community volunteers have been offering their own time to form relationships with the kids of Alexandria. Many of the little kids went home that evening with skills to teach their parents. Many of them wanted to bring home plants for their grandparents. Many had to go home and face impoverished families, abusive parents, and poor guidance. But many would also return to the Boys and Girls Club where they would develop more leadership skills, create supportive relationships, and become volunteers there later on. The Club provides their youth with the 5 Promises that instill in them the fundamental ingredients for success. They are also nurturing a larger garden from which compassionate young leaders will sprout.

I applied to intern at America’s Promise Alliance because I wanted to strengthen my commitment to service through empowering young people with these same life-changing opportunities that were offered to me. Supporting the Alliance, and therefore America’s youth, is one approach I have chosen to serve others and give back to my community.