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New program empowers Elkhart County teens

NOW: New program empowers Elkhart County teens

ELKHART, Ind. – As some kids play video games and lounge by the pool this summer, a small group of teens in Elkhart are using their time off to improve their gardening and job skills.

Church Community Services, a faith-based organization that helps people in Elkhart County, launched its new ‘Seed to Feed Teen Growers’ internship earlier this month.

“We wanted to be educating our youth about gardening,” said program coordinator Chelsea Risser.

Risser says the internship program is an expansion of Church Community Services’ ‘Seed to Feed’ initiative that started in 2011. The program works alongside the organization’s food pantry to provide fresh produce to families and address food insecurity in the area.

According to Risser, Church Community Services’ food pantry serves more than 1,400 people each month. It’s estimated the food provided to those people helps feed more than 4,000 mouths in Elkhart County.

“You’re making a difference in your community,” said Risesr. “You’re really helping to provide food to people who don’t necessarily have access to it.”

Risser believes the six week ‘Seed to Feed Teen Growers’ internship will feed more families and allow nine Elkhart County teens to practice their gardening techniques and develop job skills like leadership and communication.

“We really just want to offer this opportunity to at least a few youth in our community and hopefully it’ll keep growing,” said Risser. “They’re learning a lot of skills that they can take home and use wherever they go in life whether they’re gardeners or now.”

Students also visit other farms and gardens to learn about a more local and equitable food system.

“We’re really trying to cultivate young leaders in our community cause they’re not just learning gardening skills here, they’re learning jobs skills,” said Risser. “They have to be on time every day, they have to get along with each other.”

Elkhart Memorial High School sophomores Dana McFadden and Vera Kale are two of the interns.

“I wanted to know more farming techniques so that’s why I tried for this internship,” said Kale.

“I thought it was really cool and just something different,” said McFadden. “My goal for this summer was to try to do something new that can help me grow.”

The teens say with each seed planted lies the opportunity to grow more than their gardening skills and instead plant themselves in a place they call home.  

“This helps me mellow out,” said McFadden. “You’re also helping people cause they can just come and pick whatever they need if they need stuff. I think that’s really cool.”

“I learned how to make friendships,” said Kale. “Most of the generation stays inside and then outside, there is a lot to learn.”

To learn more about this program or to get involved, click here.

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