Registered: December 2014
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The first six years of my life were spent in a home where food was not always available and the combination of drugs, alcohol, and unemployment resulted in an unstable environment for both my sister and me. I remember wandering the neighborhood in a fight to survive, looking for food wherever we could find it. I also knew that there were other families in this same position. While this is a horrible reminder, it now provides the drive I need to help those around me.
My adoptive parents have always encouraged me to volunteer. We would work as a family at the local Caring Center, gathered items for needy families in our church, or just volunteer to help out a neighbor in need. As I grew older, I became more involved with various organizations in my school and community. By working with peers and community leaders I was able to develop the leadership skills necessary to spearhead my own projects and introduce others to the joy of volunteering.
Last fall I developed a plan to help feed members of my community. The idea was to grow numerous vegetable plants from seed and distribute them into the neighborhoods where they were needed. This strategy would allow me to provide a long term food source to people at very little cost. My parents and teachers helped me with the logistics and timeline needed to be successful. This is how the “Garden in a Box” program started.
The first, and most difficult hurdle, was to find enough funds to purchase seeds and supplies needed for plant propagation. With volunteer teachers and students at my school, we were able to raise approximately $500 through raffle sales. This, along with seed donations from various companies, allowed me to get this program off the ground. The science teachers incorporated the project into their botany classes, and provided after school demonstrations over proper planting techniques to students and staff members who wanted to get involved. By December we were able to start planting.
Over the next few months we planted over ten thousand seeds. There were seedlings lining both sides of every hallway and in every room of our school – even the principal’s office. As the plants grew larger, we had to be creative in the types of containers we used for transplanting the young vegetables. Students would save milk cartons, pop bottles, and other containers that would hold water. It turned out to be a great recycling project as well.
In late March, I designed fliers that were handed out in the local community. The Student Leadership Team agreed to go door-to-door encouraging community members to pick up their “Garden in a Box” during a week-long evening distribution process. We gave away most of the plants to anyone who was interested in creating their own garden. Neighbors, both young and young-at-heart, filed into our school and carried off boxes of vegetable plants. Seeing the joy in their faces was the most memorable part of the project.
The few remaining plants were planted in flower beds around the school. Neighbors were encouraged to help themselves to any and all produce as it became available. This fall when the students returned to the building, the plants were in full production mode. Students were able to take home, squash, cucumbers, and cantaloupe.
Seeing the final product from the prior year’s hard work, students have started asking when we will begin planting for next year’s project. With such a great volunteer base and a wonderful community, this project will continue as long as there is a need. The program allowed me to donate thousands of pounds of food over the course of a single growing season with just $500. The only costs we will incur this year will be for soil.
This project was definitely a learning experience. My basic gardening skills have improved after the hundreds of hours spent planting, transplanting, and caring for the plants. As the volunteers grew in number, I had to learn to assign jobs to others and advise them throughout the process. My leadership skills improved along the way, but most importantly, it has taught me that it only takes one person to make a difference.
Knowing that I helped families in my community that are facing the same struggles as I did as a young girl brings me a sense of relief and great joy. When people ask me why I volunteer, I simply say, "You get more joy from giving than receiving".
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Post-project Interview with NWP:
What are your educational, career, and life goals?
My educational aspirations consist of acquiring an associate’s degree in health science as a jumpstart to a career in the medical field. Upon finishing my bachelor’s degree, I want to serve in the United States Navy where I will attain additional medical training. My ultimate goal is to become a family physician. My hope is to use my skills to help underserved populations here in the United States. Since medical expenses are increasing exponentially in comparison to incomes, I would like to provide services to families at a reduced rate. Volunteerism is also dear to my heart and I hope to continue this passion as an adult. I realize that all of my goals will remain dreams until I complete my medical training. Therefore, I am committed to working hard in school and looking for opportunities that could help me make my goals a reality.
What do you think are the benefits of the Apprentice Ecologist Initiative and how has your Apprentice Ecologist Project enriched your life?
The Apprentice Ecologist Initiative has numerous benefits. First and foremost, it allows young ecologists to share ideas about how they can help in their communities. There have been times that I have wanted to start a project in my community but have been at a loss as to how to begin. This project allows people to obtain ideas, share successes and build on other’s initiatives. Secondly, this project provides scholarships to students to help them further their educational dreams. For me personally, each scholarship will allow me to spend less time at a job and more time helping in the community.
Why do you feel it is important to be an active steward of the environment now and in the future?
We only have one Earth. If we destroy our planet, life on this planet will cease. It is our duty to ensure that we care for our home so that it will continue to provide us with a healthy place to reside now and for future generations.