Something as seemingly insignificant as a tomato seed has proven life-changing for students at the Crossing Educational Center.
The Kokomo campus of the statewide faith-based alternative school runs a job training gardening program, where students and staff plant seeds, harvest produce, can the produce and make salsa or pepper jelly and then donate or sell the products at the local farmers market.
“I didn’t know we could grow peppers in Indiana,” laughed Joey Shook, who has been a student at The Crossing for four years. “It’s amazing. [Horticulture] is actually what I want to go to college for now. It changed everything.”
Shook’s time working in the garden at the south branch of the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library motivated him to stay in school and gave him the confidence to pursue higher education.
“It’s a miracle what can happen when you put your mind to it. It’s awesome for a school to have this,” he said. “I would have quit a long time ago if it wasn’t for this school.”
The Crossing’s gardens will continue expand, potentially reaching even more students like Shook, thanks to a $16,300 grant recently awarded by Companies With A Mission.
CWAM encourages workplace volunteers to donate services and expertise to a local charity. Volunteers submit a two-minute video of their work to CWAM’s Super Service Challenge, and the national nonprofit awards $1 million in grants based on the videos.
A group of 25 students and staff from The Crossing and representatives from local business supporters – which include Huston Electric, Merrell Bros. Inc., BMO Harris Bank, Wyman Group, Advantage Housing and Hostetler’s Cabinet Shop – traveled to Indianapolis for the Super Service Challenge awards Jan. 9.
“When they announced we won that money, I got goosebumps,” said Darian Fouch, a student in her second school year at The Crossing, who attended the grant ceremony. “We all jumped up and were so happy. I know what this money means to the school. It’s really exciting that we were blessed to have that.”
Fouch has not gotten involved in the gardening yet, but she is looking forward to it this spring. She compared the transformation she’s seen in herself and her peers to the seeds they plant.
“I’m like one of those seeds that was planted, and I’ve grown so much,” she said. “The school has changed my life and given me a chance to be something, which I didn’t think I would. … I know what it’s done in my life, so I like to watch what it does for the other kids too.”
Shannon Querry, career and community development coordinator for The Crossing, has been touched by the community’s willingness to invest in the school and is excited to see how the garden project progresses.
“Our board is so fabulous. They see our kids and want to do so much for us,” Querry said. “To be able to sit while they were unveiling who was winning, and we kept winning. Our board president was jumping up and down, as excited as the kids were.”
Board president Paul Wyman was excited to see The Crossing secure so much grant money.
“It was a very exciting and charged atmosphere,” he said. “We were very fortunate here in our community to be one of the top grant recipients. I’ve got a real passion for The Crossing school. These kids who are at a significant disadvantage in life for a variety of reasons are able not only to get a quality education but also to learn job skills.”
To qualify for the CWAM grants, volunteers from local businesses filmed their sessions helping The Crossing students and staff renovate their kitchen. The space needed an upgrade to accommodate their growing canning and food service ventures.
The Wyman Group’s video was one of the people’s choice winners, which came with a $5,000 grant, and Huston Electric’s video brought in $10,000 for The Crossing.
“[The weekend in Indianapolis for the CWAM awards] was the neatest part of the whole project for me,” said Matt Boor, vice president of sales and marketing for Huston Electric and member of The Crossing board. “To me, going to a bowling alley and playing video games wasn’t a big deal. But some of these kids had never been out of Howard County. They’re coming up to you and saying this is the best night of my life.”
“They were part of the team that helped us do this,” Boor added. “They were part of a winning team that night.”
The grant money will be used to purchase grow lights, racks, a bloom tent and other supplies to create an indoor gardening space in the school. The long-term goal is to build a greenhouse.
Gardening has been a learning experience for students and staff alike, Querry said, and she wants to see the initiative continue to grow.
“This money is so we can begin to take our garden through the winter when you can’t get things in the ground,” she said. “This population really doesn’t know what to do with fresh veggies or how to cook them. So we want to grow some different things to create that awareness. They begin to understand what it looks like to have responsibility, to grow something and do something with it and to start a business.”
Having a year-round garden will help students like Jacob Parr stay motivated at school.
“If it wasn’t for the people helping, we wouldn’t have a garden,” he said. “I probably wouldn’t want to be in school. I wouldn’t be able to get out and work with my hands.”
Read the original article: Kokomo Tribune]]>