Monday, December 13, 2010

It is a Wonderful Life

If you are anywhere near a television during the month of December it isn’t difficult to find an inspirational moment. The network specials, the classic movies, and even the commercials send a “feel good” message to viewers. And what Christmas season would be complete without It’s a Wonderful Life airing? But it is rare when one’s life suddenly feels like a made for TV holiday movie. This holiday season the GRUB Program was the beneficiary of a true Christmas Angel.

If you know anything about the GRUB Program then you know that we are always underfunded and we scramble every May to put together enough money to fund our paid Summer Program. This year, however, I will have a head start on my fundraising thanks to a very special person. Last week I received a check large enough to cover the Summer Program expenses for six GRUB teens. The generosity of this gift goes well beyond the dollar amount it represents. I am thrilled to have the funding, but I am honored and humbled to know that our Christmas Angel believes so strongly in what we are doing in the GRUB Program.

Over the past ten years the GRUB Program has sought to make a difference in the lives of area teens. Young people come to the Food Bank farm for different reasons – some are court ordered to perform community service, others come because they feel welcomed and valued, and still others just happen to land there and find a family. Regardless of why they are there or how long they stay, we strive to make our mark, to somehow make a difference in the life of a teen who needs someone or something to make a difference. Our Christmas Angel understands this.

This year when you see something inspirational on television remember that it isn’t just on TV and in the movies that great things happen, sometimes great things happen right in our own town to people you know. In It’s a Wonderful Life when the bell on the tree rings and Zuzu remembers that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings – I hope you will recall that GRUB truly has their very own Christmas Angel.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The $64,000 Question

Last night I spoke to members of a church about the GRUB Program. Zaquia and Krista, two young college women, who have been in GRUB since they were in junior high school, joined me. I was very proud of them for making the effort to be there, because I know they are busy with school and other activities, and because I hadn’t called to remind them (or nag them) about coming. I sort of put them on the spot once they arrived, asking them if they would join me in speaking to the group; always troopers, they agreed.

After we spoke we took questions from the church members. The final question was from my friend, one of the Pastors of the church, Barrett Smith. He asked the girls why they “stuck,” why they kept going to the GRUB Program. I was eager to hear their answers. This has been my $64,000 question for years, why do teenagers keep coming to the farm week after week, year after year, volunteering to do very labor intensive work in all kinds of weather. They hemmed and hawed for a few seconds, trying to come up with an answer and finally Zaquia said, “Because of Roy and Debbie and Jenifer.” I know that is part of the reason. I know the teens keep returning because they know the adults at the farm, Debbie and Ashley and I, genuinely care for them, but there is more; they genuinely care about each other.

These GRUB “kids,” from every race, religion, school, family configuration, socio-economic status, and neighborhood in town, come together and forget they are different. They become friends, a family. Krista’s answer to Barrett’s question was, “If you don’t fit in or belong anywhere else, you fit in at the farm.” They keep coming back because it is a home and we are a family. I guess I’ve always known the answer, but I needed to hear it, to get confirmation, to know that the work we've been doing for the past ten years is important; to inspire me to carry on and to strive to make the GRUB Program better.

Thanks, Barrett, for asking the question, and thank you girls for your beautiful answers.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Opening Day

Today was the opening day of the GRUB 2010-2011 Academic Year Program, the tenth opening day I have been witness to in this phenomenal youth program. Today, as almost twenty teenagers showed up at the farm on a Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but reflect on past opening days.

The first year was a challenge. The program was on rocky ground, still trying to find its place when Farmer Roy and I made a pact to “make it work.” With a list from our area workforce development program we made phone call after phone call recruiting teenagers to be part of the GRUB Program. Scoop Hooper, a city employee, then in charge of Youth Development (a program that no longer exists), and I made home visits to explain the concept of GRUB to parents. Finally, on that first opening day, Farmer Roy and I drove from one end of the city to the other picking up teenagers and transporting them to the farm for a morning of field work, job skill lessons, and a whole lot of mentoring and caring. Somehow it all worked. I have no idea how many miles we logged on the GRUB van and on our personal vehicles that first year, but it paid off – the GRUB Program was born. I have fond memories of T-Reg, Tory, Sparkle, Starla, Cortesha, and Cedric, just to name a few from that first year.

The following years brought hundreds of teenagers to the farm. So many names and faces, so many lives and hearts touched and changed by the GRUB Program. But the GRUB teens weren’t the only ones benefiting and changing – Farmer Roy, Farm Manager Debbie, and I were all impacted by the youth in the program. Prasyla, D’Andrea, Marvin, BK, Shae, Chuy, Malcolm, Ronnie, Kacy, Morgan, Analisa, Anthony, Joe, Terrence, Tancquasha, Asia, Sean, Roderick, Cassie, Jontell, Virtis, Jabree, Tyrone, Dillan, the Garcia brothers, the Love siblings, Kimberly, Isaac, and many, many, many more tough and tender, tall and short, volunteers or community service teens, all touched and changed us for the better.

The current crop of GRUB teens is outstanding: Zaquia, LaKeisha, Krista, Zack, Zeke, Adam, Kozie, Sean, B.J., De’Drick, Derrick, Angel, Abry, Kevin, Katrina, and Grace. This group, perhaps more than any other, has taken GRUB to a new level. Add to this our newest staff member, Ashley, and there is no telling where we can go!

Today’s first GRUB workday brought many new teens through our door. As each signed in and filled out the required program paper work, I couldn’t help but wonder who they were and how they would impact the GRUB Program and me in the year to come. Welcome to our farm, we are in for another awesome year. Thank you, each of you, for who you are and what you bring to us.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

GRUB Loves Volunteers!

Every once in a while an awesome volunteer steps onto our farm and everything clicks. This summer that awesome volunteer is Caroline. Working side-by-side with the GRUB teens in the field she discovered the magic that is the GRUB Farm. Today she came by my office with a request to do a college internship with the GRUB Program next semester. YES, was my reply even before she told me that GRUB was “in her heart.”

How fortunate for the GRUB Program that Caroline found us. Her sensitivity and genuine love for the teens in the GRUB Program will be a blessing to us. She hopes to lead leadership and development classes with the teens in the fall. We could not do what we do without our wonderful volunteers. Thank you, Caroline!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Thank You, Lubbock

I’ve been thinking about our farmers’ market experience on Saturday. After a really bad week – flooding, lost crops, pulling the pump on the well and replacing it – the market was a refreshing reminder of the greatness of our community.

First, I must brag on the GRUB crew. At 7:00 a.m. on Saturday morning I had seven teenagers at the farm loading bins of vegetables into our market trailer. They each put in a nine hour day, unpaid, in an effort to earn money to attend the Rooted in Community conference in Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina later this month. Kudos to farm manager, Debbie Cline, for getting the trailer to the farmers’ market for us on her day off, because I am incapable of backing up a trailer.

The weather on Saturday was not the best for an outdoor market and street fair. We began our morning in rain showers which continued off and on throughout the day, only to be interrupted by periods of blazing heat and humidity. But, the show did go on, in spite of the weather. To add to the marketable produce we were able to salvage from our farm, a local vendor helped us buy wholesale from one of his distributors. (Thanks, Cal Brints from Apple Country Orchard!) And another grower showed up with a donation of two boxes of tomatoes for us to sell. (Thanks, Russ!)

The outpouring of support from the community was beautiful. One customer bought $9 worth of vegetables, paid with a one-hundred dollar bill, and told us to keep the change. Another customer told me she wanted to sponsor one of the GRUB teens on the trip and handed me a check for $700! WOW! And, it didn’t end there. One of our CSA shareholders came by with a large donation, as did perfect strangers. On top of this we had the best sales day we’ve ever had at the farmers’ market.

Last Tuesday morning, when surveying the flood damage, one of the GRUB members asked me how we would ever raise the money needed to attend the Rooted in Community conference now that there were no excess vegetables to sell at the market. I assured her that it would all work out, somehow – it always does. Thanks, Lubbock, for not making a liar out of me!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

GRUB Stories

Lately I am feeling like the harried mother of a newborn, so many things are happening and I don’t have time to write it all down. I am missing the opportunity to record too many important moments in my “child’s” life. The “child” in this instance is the GRUB Program. We have been so busy this summer I haven’t had a spare moment in which to write about it. I am forcing myself today to commit to paper a few recent happenings.

The summer program began as hectic as usual – sixteen teenagers in the paid Summer GRUB Program plus an assortment of teens from 12 to 22 showing up every day to perform their court ordered community service. On any day we can expect 20 to 30 “kids” at the farm, add to that the bi-weekly van-load of youth who show up with their probation officers and we have busy week on the farm. Crops were growing great, we had early harvests in our high tunnels and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares of the harvest went out three weeks early this year. All-in-all, a great beginning to our summer until – we received half of our annual rainfall in one weekend. Oops!

Farm Flood 7/5/10

Seven to ten inches of rain on a farm already sitting in a bowl, bordered on one side by a playa lake and on the other sides by homes and concrete, is not a good thing. The rains began on Thursday and didn’t cease until Sunday, at which time we had several feet of water standing on all five acres of our farm.

Is this an essay to complain about the rain and floods on the farm? Certainly not – that was just to set the scene for the two stories I want to tell.

Story #1: Every year a few lucky teens from the GRUB Program get the opportunity to attend a national conference, Rooted in Community, with other youth from across the United States who are participating in garden-based food justice programs. So, this year our budget allowed for three youth and one adult to attend the event. I told the youth in the program to pick three of their peers to represent them and I was quickly informed that that just wouldn’t cut it. I responded with, “Well, that’s all the budget allows, so deal with it.” Okay, here comes the fun part of story #1 – they went over my head! They requested and received a meeting with our Executive Director and our Chief Financial Officer where they convinced them that, because attending the conference had been a “life changing experience” for them in the past – they deserved to go and take four more of the younger teens in the program with them.

Our Executive Director is no fool, and our Chief Financial Officer is known to be a hard-a** at times (when money is involved), so the deal they made with my GRUB emissaries was this: they would front them the money to take the additional youth to the conference, BUT the GRUB teens had to earn the extra money this summer and pay it back. NO PROBLEM! They committed to selling excess farm produce at the farmers’ market every Saturday on their own time in order to raise the money. Sounds good, right? Oh, wait – remember the aforementioned flood? There will be no excess produce! Disaster.

Story #2: I was out of town over the long holiday weekend of the flood. As soon as I got back into town on Monday evening I went to the farm to take photos of the flood damage. I arrived at the farm to find the gate and building wide open and discovered a group of GRUB teens inside the barn building something. They were a bit sheepish when I “caught” them working on a mystery project.

Back-story to Story #2: For the past 10 years our Farm Manager, Debbie Cline, has overseen the harvest and the vegetable cleaning and packaging on two really awful wooden tables. These tables are falling apart and non-utilitarian.

Story #2 continued: So, I “caught” the GRUB teens making new tables for Farm Manager, Debbie. They used money from their hard-earned paychecks (to the tune of $400+), designed tables to hold our harvest and CSA crates, purchased and hauled materials, and hid the entire scheme from farm staff adults. One of the teens involved in this project is a young man who six months ago, when asked where he saw himself in ten years, replied, “Locked up.” This young man happens to be one of the younger GRUB teens picked by his peers to attend the conference. (See what a little self-confidence/self-esteem can do?)

Caught in the act

I left them on Monday evening to finish their project. This morning they surprised Debbie with the tables, complete with hand-painted veggies and an inscription on one that reads, “Strengthening a Community and Building a Family.” I am happy to report that Debbie cried when presented with her present.

Conclusion of Story #2: When I discovered how much money the GRUB teens spent on Debbie’s gift I offered to continue our conference fundraising efforts in order to pay them back. The young man, who heretofore saw his future behind bars, told me in no uncertain terms that he would not accept any money from me. “We did this for Debbie, not GRUB,” he said.

Let’s tie these two stories together – We have the most wonderful, most awesome teenagers in the GRUB Program. Caring, giving, deserving teens – all of whom want to improve their lives and the lives of others. They all deserve the opportunity to attend the National Rooted in Community Conference Help me get them there. To donate or to sponsor a teen, please call me at 806-763-3003, extension 35.

Thanks, Jenifer and the GRUB Teens

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Lessons Learned

The GRUB Summer Program began on June 1st and I have barely had time to sit behind my computer since. The summer began with a bang and a triple digit heat wave, but the GRUB crew is up to the task. At the close of the first day one of our interns took me on a tour of the farm to show me the work accomplished. This particular intern is typically selfish with praise, but on this day she was throwing it around with abandon. The amount of work accomplished on the first day was astounding.

Since GRUB is a job skills/life skills training program I took it upon myself to teach a “lesson” – that a good boss doesn’t ask employees to do anything he/she wouldn’t do. So I jumped in on the second day and hoed an entire row of weeds. Later, one of the GRUB teens asked me how long it took. His reply, “If I took that long Debbie would fire me.”

I may not be fast, but at least I gave it my best shot. That’s another job/life lesson – always give it your best shot.

It was a very long row to hoe!