The following blog post was written by Pam Keck, a loyal and compassionate volunteer at Covenant House Missouri. Pam, a retired science professional, shares her time with youth and staff in a variety of capacities, including leading a Chemistry and Nutrition class for youth in CHMO’s residential program and creating a plan for a Healing Garden.
This past spring while visiting with a practicum student from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, I learned that she and Brad Suda,then an undergraduate volunteer from Washington University in St. Louis, were planning a nutrition class for the youth. They invited me to participate and I jumped at the chance. The first ‘course’ so to speak was a true experiment; we weren’t sure how the youth would respond. During the three meeting times, we covered basic nutrition facts, targeted body weights, reading a nutrition label and taste tests. The class was a hit. The month of May arrived and Brie left for her full-time job and Brad for summer vacation.
In the meantime, I learned that CHMO had four dormant 8 x 8 foot above-ground-planter boxes built by a former volunteer. I was encouraged to start up the garden plots again. Several youth helped prepare the soil and plant tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, parsley, basil, squash and flowers. Other youth helped with the watering. I was amazed at the curiosity extended by the youth who ‘caught’ me working the beds. Once they started asking questions, their friends would join in on the discussion. The excitement over knowing what a sweet potato plant looked like versus parsley was amazing to me.
I decided to continue the nutrition class using the fruits of our labor from the beds and called it “C&N” for chemistry and nutrition. (Since I’m a chemist, I always look for a chance to point out that everything around us is a chemical including the food we eat. One of the main messages discussed what that it’s up to us to make good choices regarding anything we put into our bodies.) In the next class, I wanted to show youth how to cook healthy dishes and so we had several sessions on the TLP floor where one young woman graciously offered her kitchen and apartment as the tasting room. We prepared bruschetta using tomatoes and basil from the garden (most hadn’t heard of this), tomato sauce and used tofu and spaghetti squash as noodle substitutes, as well as butternut squash soup and sweet potato pie and chips. In fact, the CHMO garden sweet potatoes won an award from Gateway Greening as the ‘brainiest looking’ sweet potato.
The whole outdoor experience led me to consider the nearly half-acre plot that housed the garden beds. Wouldn’t it be cool to have the whole area filled with gardens and places for sanctuary including swings, chairs and a gazebo? Therapeutic healing gardens are a proven tool for improving mental health. I contacted the St. Louis Master Gardeners who identified Anne Moore from Florascapes to help. Anne designed a beautiful plan for CHMO that has all of these items and more. We are currently seeking funds for this space and if blessed with the appropriate funding hope to integrate the entire plan this coming spring.