The new community service program is the joint effort of many volunteers and personnel at the Juvenile Center.
A seed was planted for the program to blossom when Juvenile Court Judge Daniel Swafford heard a Master Gardener presentation at a local civic club.
“We stayed in contact. ... The judge is very much passionate about doing something for these kids,” said Master Gardener project coordinator Mike Arnold.
Arnold said this is the only program of its kind in the state of Tennessee.
Juvenile Court community service coordinator Steven Rogers said the program is for at-risk children 13-17 years old who need community service hours or are recommended by the court system. Rogers said the students will learn skills through the program they can use later in life.
Volunteers with Master Gardener Program have agreed to be a part of the juvenile Courts program.
“A great majority of them are retired people looking to give back to the community, and at the same time doing something they enjoy — gardening,” Arnold said.
The program is 25 weeks long. At the end of the program, Juvenile Court will hold a graduation ceremony. Youth Service Officer Ricky Talent said for this first time the number of students participating was limited to 16. There is no cost to the children or their families for participation. The cost was low to the court because they already had the garden beds and supplies. “Growing good kids and giving them self-esteem” is a goal of the program’s involvement with the Juvenile Court, according to Arnold.
“When discussion first started among the Master Gardeners there was a lot of talk about what are we getting ourselves into,” Arnold said. “After our first session (with the children) we had a little round table and these are great kids. They just tripped over their shoelaces and got caught but these are good kids. I’m real excited about the program and proud to be a part.”
Talent said when he first heard the idea, he was glad for the opportunity for the volunteers to see the work Juvenile Court is doing.
“The last few years I have kind of supervised a garden project,” Talent said.
The partnership with the Junior Master Gardener program will build on this foundation.
“Our mission is to reach out to the community, not so much the commercial agriculture, but to the homeowner,” Arnold said.
The program started as a part of the University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service of Bradley County.
“Its just not planting the seed and watching it grow and the physical aspects. We also have a classroom aspect,” Talent said.
Under the new program students attend weekly classes. These classes focus on the science and math of gardening before students actually work in raised garden beds outside. Lesson plans for the program were developed by retired teacher Debbie Flowers and current educator Leslie Hubbard based on the nationwide Junior Master Gardener Program.
Talent said in the past students did not have this added educational component.
“The Master Gardeners have allowed us to take it to another level of education,” Juvenile Court director Terry Gallaher said.
Now they are learning about soil, what makes up the soil, fertilizer, about compostings,’ Talent said.
Arnold said the classroom component also teaches some botany and chemistry of soils.
Soil samples were taken from the court’s garden beds to see what nutrients need to be added.
The new program is also allowing Talent and Rogers the opportunity to build relationships with the children while they are working off community service hours.
Rogers said many of the children have more than 200 community service hours to work off. If a child comes to every meeting for the entire program, this fulfills all of his or her community service requirements.
Talent said children tell the YSOs things while gardening they would never talk about in another setting.
Children also have the opportunity to get to know the volunteers who are consistent in serving with the program.
Talent said he hopes some of the children will pursue further gardening knowledge or even decide to work in the nursery industry because of this program.
The Junior Master Gardener Program is a nationwide program with a uniform curriculum. Beaty Feed and Hardware has donated some supplies, such as soil and compost. Curriculum was paid for through a donation from the George R. Johnson Family Foundation.
Last year, the first year the Bradley County Master Gardener Program existed, it logged 1,300 volunteer hours.