The Rapidian

Steil Boys & Girls Club gets new community garden thanks to volunteers

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On Saturday, June 19, 2010, Club members at Steil Boys & Girls Club added playing in the dirt to the endless list of activities provided at the Club. The work of nearly 50 Amway Global volunteers, donations from the Green Education Foundation, and the energy of 30 Club members transformed the vacant lot behind Steil Club into an interactive community garden.

Boys & Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth (BGCGRYC) received a grant in the Spring of 2010 to cover the cost of a community garden at one of their two Clubs. This grant was funded through Boys & Girls Clubs of America (BGCA) in partnership with Amway Global. Amway Global is working with the Green Education Foundation (GEF) to provide hands-on environmental education, including outdoor gardens and workshops, for young people across the country. 

In partnership with BGCA’s efforts to provide comprehensive youth development activities for young people after-school, Amway Global and GEF were able to help bring an important aspect of education to Grand Rapids’ youth that is often missing in the typical educational structure.

BGCA selected Steil Boys & Girls Club as the site for the community garden and Amway Global offered supplies, volunteers, and the expertise of environmental educators through GEF. Club staff worked with the project’s supporters prior to the planting event to create a garden blueprint set to include four raised beds, a corn and pumpkin patch, a butterfly garden and arch, picnic tables, and proper fencing and landscaping to the empty lot behind Steil Club. 

Amway Global volunteers worked alongside of Club members and Staff members throughout the one day event. These enthusiastic volunteers created four stations through which groups of Club members rotated to better engage with the garden from beginning to end. Club members painted plant markers and rocks, created their own wildflower pots to take home, and were able to plant herbs and vegetables. 

GEF educators walked the youth through the four raised beds and explained each of the separate gardens. Some of the Club members had never worked on a garden before or raked wood chips into place. 

“Are pizzas going to grow out of that garden?” one Club member asked her GEF educator. The teacher explained how the plants within that bed would produce food that the Club members could eat and demonstrated how healthy eating begins with how food is grown.

The lessons the community garden offers extend beyond the planting day and beyond the Club itself. The surrounding neighborhood will also benefit from this new community space. One of the garden is open to Douglas Street so that residents of the southwest part of Grand Rapids may also learn the benefits associated with the garden. 

Steil Club members and staff will be able to utilize the community garden and its lessons of environmental protection, sharing, stewardship, and fun for many years to come. 

“It is amazing to see our once vacant lot turned into another great space for our Club members to spend time in after school,” said Steil Club Director Erin Crison. “They have learned a lot about gardening and what goes into managing a community space.”

In addition to the support hard work of Amway Global, GEF, BGCA, Club staff and Club members, Lowe’s Heroes, a volunteer program that helps to improve the communities where Lowe's employees work and live, also played an essential part in continuing the beautification process occurring behind Steil Club. 

In early August, a crew from Lowe’s spent two days building a brand new 6-foot wooden fence surrounding the new garden. They also built and painted new picnic tables for the Club as well as poured a large slab of concrete for the new tetherball pole that they donated. 

With the added support of Lowe’s Heroes, the once useless lot behind Steil Club is now a community space that will surely provide BGCGRYC more opportunities to engage their youth in outdoor activities. The garden has already allowed youth to take part in the 2010 growing season and taste the fruits of their labor. 

A big thank you to:
Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Amway Global and all their volunteers
Green Education Foundation and all their volunteers
Lowe’s Heroes and all their volunteers
Steil Club Staff/Volunteers
Steil Club Members
To see more photographs from this event, please check out our Facebook page:
Article written by Katie Sytsema and Sara Schneider.

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