Airdrie kids are getting a chance to dig their fingers into the dirt and gain some life experience this summer as part of a youth-focused gardening program.
The horticulture workshops stem from the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Program (JYSEP), a global movement that aims to provide young people with a “profound understanding of their own potential,” according to its website.
Jollean Chapiel, JYSEP program coordinator, said she and fellow coordinator Kim Sundset, are both members of the Baha’i faith. While the gardening program is Baha’i inspired, Chapiel said it is not religious affiliated.
“We would love all religions to come and collaborate and work together,” she said. “Kim and I have been working together for quite a while trying to create community engagement, focusing specifically on youth.”
Both Chapiel and Sundset spearheaded the children’s garden this year after several attempts to rouse community engagement in their own neighbourhood of Sagewood.
Chapiel began hosting free community events outside of C.W. Perry School to provide an opportunity and a safe space for families and kids to get outside during the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, Sundset had been involved in the Sagewood community garden and had previously hosted a children’s gardening program which was met with success in the southwest neighbourhood.
“Kim had [thought] maybe we could do the children’s garden program and get that started up again,” Chapiel said, adding that the reprisal will focus on developing the capacity of the youth through gardening rather than on strictly developing gardening skills.
The gardening workshops are held each Wednesday from 5 to 6 p.m. in conjunction with the Airdrie Farmer’s Market located nearby Sundset’s home on 1st Avenue. Sundset has retrofitted her red panelled home to include a child-friendly tiered garden, innovative watering systems, and basement workrooms.
“We decided to run [the garden] alongside the farmer’s market in case the parents would like to drop their kids off and be able to go to the market,” Chapiel said. “When Kim moved to that house, she specifically designed her garden to be a children’s garden because she wanted to do programs. The program isn’t [just] about gardening, it’s giving the kids a place where they can learn a little bit about nature and learn some life skills," she said.
Chapiel added she and Sundset wanted to get older youth engaged in community service through the gardening program, so they reached out to local volunteer organizations to request youth volunteers to help mentor the younger children.
“Some of them are there because they love gardening and some are just there because they really enjoy engaging in social activities,” she said. “We’re also trying to develop these youth’s capacity for life leadership and having them understand that their job isn’t just to corral the kids but to really look at each one of them and what is the need of that child.”
Acording to Chapiel, at the start of the program many of the kids were shy and hesitant to open up. With the help of the youth mentors, they are now comfortable to talk openly about their favourite aspects of the garden.
Ivy and Mackenzie, two participants of the garden program, said their favourite activities include planting flowers, picking berries, and writing in their garden journal. Chapiel added the workshops help teach children patience and perseverance.
“Sometimes, even though you don’t want to weed the garden, it needs to be done,” she said. “But there’s a balance and we can go pick cherries and strawberries ... they also learn that sometimes you have to be patient and there’s a time and a place so we’re really trying to develop life skills and social skills.”
Chapiel said that both she and Sundset hope to create an environment with a sustained cycle of growth where youth learn how to mentor children, and in turn the children grow to become mentors themselves.
“The way that things are structured and the way the world functions is not really effective and we’ve really seen that with COVID,” Chapiel said. “How truly connected we are with all people in all parts of the world... it’s important that the youth start figuring out a new way to do things and to build confidence and the skills to make changes that are needed.”
Chapiel hopes that this type of mentorship will spread to other communities and she and her team would be happy to provide the tools and resources to help others to do so.
“Honestly, parents nowadays are so busy and it’s so important for young people to understand that there is a whole community out there ready to support them,” she said. “You know the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child?’ It really does ... and we want to recreate that village.”
Follow me on Twitter @carmenrcundy