Inspiration from Northwest Youth Services

In March of 2016 I became the Lead Garden Educator for the WeGrow Garden at Northwest Youth Services, through their vocational training program. Northwest Youth Services (NWYS) is another Bellingham, Washington-based nonprofit that provides resources to homeless and previously homeless youth, in order to assist them on their way towards housing and financial stability. NWYS staff encouraged Growing Alliances to pursue our mission, despite the overlap, because Bellingham needs more resources for disadvantaged youth.

The WeGrow Program employs at most 5 youth in a minimum of a 3-month vocational training program to teach farm skills, botany, biology, teamwork with their peers and volunteers, accounting skills, and other vital job skills. For the three months before starting our market stand, we delegated about 30 minutes of each 4-hour workday for lessons in biology so that the youth would better understand the processes happening in the garden.

Up until this growing season (2017), WeGrow had a .25-acre farm next to the NWYS office on State St, where we produced hundreds of pounds of produce and popped up a market stand during the summer months. Despite the scarce income we made through the market stand, it gave the youth the opportunity to work on customer service, accounting, and personal and product presentation. We also surveyed local businesses for which would be interested in a weekly produce box, during which we continued a relationship with the delicious Leaf & Ladle. What wasn’t sold was donated to the food bank. For the 2017 season, WeGrow will be breaking ground on a new site, across from the Bellingham Food Bank.

I learned a lot during those 7 months about effective garden education and how to modify my lesson delivery to best communicate with each youth. I plan on using much of what I learned to create a happy, healthy, and educational work environment for the youth of Growing Alliances. The best part of my job was seeing the youth be excited and proud of their work, and to watch the progression of their work and garden skills. These youth are incredible and I am honored to know each one of them.

Five out of the six youth we employed over the season moved on from WeGrow to more full-time employment – one of the program’s major goals. Similar to WeGrow, Growing Alliances will have the goal of providing the youth we work with the skills and connections needed to give them more long-term employment.

This experience demonstrated how much need there is for vocational training programs for youth with unusually high obstacles to employment. Less than half (48%) of youth who have recently transitioned out of foster care are employed whatsoever and those who are make less than $10,000 a year on average. Reliable income is a basic need for everyone and it is a goal of Growing Alliances, Northwest Youth Services and many other amazing nonprofits and individuals to give a hand to those who need one.

One of the main goals this winter of Growing Alliances is the development of several program plans so that we may survey our targeted population on which would be most appealing. It is possible that Growing Alliances will start another urban farm in Bellingham, based on demand, but we have several other ideas that are more popular amongst our Board Members. We shall see where our surveys bring us; stay tuned for updates in the coming months!

For more information about Northwest Youth Services and their programs, please check out their website: https://www.nwys.org/vocational-opportunities/

Many thanks,

Kali Crow-Liester

By |January 14th, 2017|Uncategorized|0 Comments

A Change in Leadership!

A Change in Leadership

Growing Alliances has switched leadership! In November, Heather Tiszai handed her role as Executive Director over to Kali Crow-Liester, a soon-to-be Western graduate with a big vision for the organization. We are currently in the process of revamping our mission and programs, though we plan on continuing with the Cargo Club to deliver produce by bike around Bellingham.

Kali and the new Board of Directors wish to transfer the focus of Growing Alliances from sustainable agriculture in the Bahamas and onto vulnerable populations in Whatcom County. We are specifically interested in working with youth in foster care who are soon to turn 18 and ‘age-out’ of foster care, meaning that they will no longer qualify for any type of support. Our current thought is to create jobs in urban agriculture for this population, in order to make this transition less of a financial challenge.

Over the winter months we will be surveying this potential clientele to assess whether they truly need job assistance and if so, what job programs would be most interesting to them. We will also spend significant time connecting with the community to gain support and foster partnerships to best serve our clientele. Some organizations we are interested in partnering with are Northwest Youth Services, Skookum House, the Restorative Action Coalition, the WSU Whatcom Extension, and others.

One other very important focus of this winter is finding seed money to pay for our start-up costs, such as state fees, marketing materials, and soon our very first employee! The majority of our money will be sought out through grants that Kali will write this winter, which will pay for a bike, its accessories, a stipend for Kali and for our first youth employee! If anyone believes in our new mission and has any ideas of how to get funding, please let us know! If that includes an interest in donating, please feel free to donate anything you can during this holiday season!

Thank you all so much and I look forward to working in this amazing and supportive Bellingham community!

Cheers!

Kali Crow-Liester

By |December 12th, 2016|blog|0 Comments