The Garden of Hope in Newark, Ohio, was founded in 1999, when Shannon Kishel ’01 teamed up with local resident Skip Shumaker to create a place where young people could fulfill community service requirements by working in what was originally called the South Side Community Garden. (The land is now called 6th Street and Growing Community Gardens.)
Just a few weeks ago, Judge Robert Hoover ended up there—“knee-deep in muck”—alongside teens who had been court-ordered to do community service, and Garden of Hope interns Sarah Davis ’14, Allie Flower ’15, and Rosie Guzman ’16 got to witness a revealing moment among the kids. Working in the compost pile with Hoover, the Denison students say, the teens came to see the Juvenile Court Justice as someone who genuinely cared about them.
Each summer, the juvenile court system pays three interns from Denison to run three-week sessions for teens. Together, the interns and their teenage charges grow tomatoes, zucchini, squash, strawberries, potatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, and much more. (This year, Flower laughs, they had exactly one stock of corn.)
They then donate the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor to organizations like the Salvation Army and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Some of the food goes on a brightly painted table by the side of the road that reads, “Free produce! Take only what you need, please.”
Participants don’t just work in their plots, though. They also keep busy by helping other community members with their plots, tending an herb garden, looking after a compost bin, painting, journaling about their experiences, and taking care of the DCA Homelessness and Hunger committee’s cooking duties while committee members are gone for the summer. They also prepare meals in The Open House, which means the teens join the interns on campus every other week.
It can be a transformative experience—for the teens as well as the interns. Guzman has had to learn how to balance being a friend with being an authority figure; Davis has begun to realize the privileges she’s had in life; and Flower had this to say: “There are so many more things we could be doing for these kids in particular, and for the community as a whole.”
Some participants have chosen to come back for another session, even after they’ve completed all of their community service hours. And that, of course, is the desired outcome. “Our project is about connecting kids back to the community,” says Kalinoski. “Gardening is really secondary to mentoring the kids.”