In honor of National Mentoring Month I would like to share my experience as a mentor to young men, ages 11-16. We work during the summer months cultivating and sharing the bounty of a vegetable garden with our local food pantry.
The name of the garden is “Charity Patch.” Nine years ago, my wife and I set out to create an initiative we could get behind that would allow us to give back to the community. Long story short, we started a non-profit called Charity Patch. It’s there we plant, nurture and harvest vegetables that are donated to our local food pantry giving their patrons much needed access to fresh produce.
After a couple of years I asked myself “how can I make this experience even better?” The answer was clear, by mentoring and teaching empathy to the young men I currently work with!
Recruiting for Good
Soon I began recruiting pre and post teen age boys that come through my program, The Quest Project. They are there for a myriad of reasons, absent father, anger, addiction, divorce, socialization, failing grades etc., basically they are struggling.
Since that time, a group of 8-12 young men from the program volunteer to garden at Charity Patch! They show up for their assigned shift and the mentoring begins. Each young man learns how to till the land, weed, tie up plants, and wield a garden hoe. Most importantly I am present and listening and teaching important values like:
- personal satisfaction of what a hard day’s work feels like.
Most of these young men haven’t considered what they would do if they had to grow food in order to eat. Some never thought about how a food pantry relies on donations to feed the less fortunate; and are limited to shelf stable canned and boxed foods.
When we make a delivery of fresh nutritious baskets of veggies the families are excited and appreciative!
A Little Imagination
Nine years ago, my wife and I didn’t have the space for a garden when we first “imagined” Charity Patch; in fact we asked the owner of an empty lot if we could use his land to garden (which we did for 2 years)! I did not let the fact that my yard wasn’t big enough stop me or create an obstacle, in fact just the opposite! For the past 7 years the entire back and side yard of The Quest Project office space has been home to Charity Patch!
It took imagination and determination!
Watching a group of young men parade down the steps of the pantry with baskets full of fresh vegetables fills me with pride and joy! The smiles on their faces knowing “they did the hard, dirty work” is priceless.
Consider Becoming a Mentor
Boys are gaming and glued to phones and internet; EXCEPT when they’re working in a garden!
Become a mentor and an agent for change. Start a garden and donate some or all the produce to a local food pantry, or a project designed to help someone; a neighbor, family member or someone in need. When we teach valuable lessons of volunteerism and empathy along with being present (in the “here & now”)…we can all be proud!