“You know, I helped build this,” the 14-year-old says proudly, his chest puffed out. He’s gesturing to a chicken run and coop situated on the edge of the therapy garden run by the Christian Community Placement Center (CCPC).
“I know you did!” Christie Edwards says, smiling. Corban alumna ('00) and the Human Resources Coordinator for CCPC, Christie remembers the spring day two years previously when a group from Corban University came out to help build the run for their new chicken coop. The youth (we’ll call him Jackson) had come alongside, his motivation to work in the garden much higher with the presence of the big energetic group of Corban students.
“I think he dug one or two fence post holes, and that was probably it, but he was so proud that he helped build that coop,” Christie says. “And that wouldn’t have been possible if we hadn’t had a volunteer group come and get the bulk of the work done.”
CCPC is an organization that provides services to foster youth like Jackson—children and adolescents who struggle in traditional foster homes, who are transitioning out of youth corrections, or who are at-risk in other ways.
Through therapeutic foster care, mentoring, skill building, counseling, residential services, and other programs, CCPC seeks to help at-risk youth and give them hope for a healthy future.
Much of what CCPC does involves partnering with other organizations, whether to take on cases, provide services for youth and the community, or recruit volunteers. One such partnership that has grown over the years is the relationship with Corban University, which has been instrumental in building and maintaining CCPC’s therapy garden.
The therapy garden was largely Christie's vision. She’d run into a representative of the Marion-Polk Food Share at a community service fair at Corban, and suddenly it had clicked: the unused field on the east side of the property, the need for an inviting place for youth to meet with staff and mentors, and the opportunity for youth to develop new skills, all while giving back to the community. A therapy garden, simultaneously functioning as one of the Marion-Polk Food Share community gardens, seemed like the perfect solution.
But who would do the work?
Many of the youth at CCPC could come alongside and help, but the project would require larger groups of volunteers who could do the brunt of the labor. Corban University, among several other volunteer groups, stepped up.
Over the years, students from Corban have participated in the maintenance of the garden, completed spring clean-up tasks, and even built new garden features such as an herb spiral and the aforementioned chicken run.
Some students come out in groups for specially designated service days (Freshman Orientation and Martin Luther King Day), while others spend several weeks working on long-term projects, often counting their hours in the garden toward the community service credits required for graduation. This past summer, students in Corban’s Pathway Program (international students preparing for University-level classes) spent two hours each Wednesday working on various garden projects.
While landscaping and yardwork may not seem as exciting as other outreach opportunities, the work that over 800 Corban volunteers have accomplished over the years serves a far-reaching purpose. At the very least, the therapy garden provides a warm, inviting context for mentors to work with CCPC youth. Christie remembers one youth who had attention disorders. “He could be sitting there weeding and have something to do while his mentor was talking with him. It made it a more successful session,” she explains.
But in addition to a therapeutic place to talk and heal, the garden provides a place for youth to build skills and learn how to work in community. Jackson's pride in the chicken coop he had helped build is a testament to the power of work—tangible, creative work—in instilling a sense of purpose in young people who may not feel they’ve accomplished much in their lives or contributed to their communities.
In addition to working alongside CCPC youth, Corban volunteers often prepare the garden so that the youth can do more enjoyable, creative outdoor projects. Christie remembers two seniors (Caleb Wilkins and Joseph Meador, both class of 2017) coming out and spending all Spring Break cleaning up the garden so that the youth could focus on more creative, engaging activities. “It was neat that Corban came in to do that legwork, because the kids got to do more fun stuff. They got to make steppingstones and build a path to the chicken coop—I would have had them pulling weeds and clearing beds,” Christie laughs. “Corban got to help prepare that.”
On a cool rainy day in fall, the garden might seem empty: the vegetables have been harvested and donated to the Marion-Polk Food Share, the weeds have begun to sprout back to life, and a few leaning sunflower stalks and zinnias are the only evidence of the vibrant summer growth. But one can imagine mentors sitting down with foster youth at sunny picnic tables, pulling weeds with them in the raised beds, or even working alongside them as they dig a post hole or two for the chicken coop and run.
The garden provides more than beautiful flowers and food to donate; it provides a welcoming space and a place for youth to work with their hands, build new skills, and look back and say, “I helped create that.”
Learn more about CCPC at http://ccpcusa.com/