Photo of garden harvest
Tilling, planting, watering and watching the fruits of their labor sprout this summer has been a rewarding experience for the young ladies of Excelsior Youth Center. Putting down roots, both literally and metaphorically, is a new occurrence for most of the 155 girls who live at Excelsior; most have never been in one place long enough to watch a plant grow, much less be a part of the nurturing process. Theirs is a garden filled with meaning.
Located in Aurora near Chambers Road and Quincy Avenue, Excelsior is the largest residential treatment facility for girls 11 – 18 in the country. The girls come to Excelsior with a variety of issues, from mental illness and drug abuse to sexual exploitation and truancy. Excelsior’s structured program gives them the safety and security to heal and turn their lives around. Part of Excelsior’s treatment program is to give the girls a variety of activities so that they can feel successful. The garden is one of the many options the girls have to try something new and dig into an activity where they can experience success.
What do they love about the garden? For Maria, spending time working in the garden is a chance to make new friends, step back and take a break from her worries. “It helps me when I’m stressed out. I feel better when I’m out there,” she said. After spending time in the garden, Emily shared that she “felt happy” and realized that she liked “digging in the dirt.” She continued, “It was the first time that I ever saw a tomato grow on the vine and turn red,” said Emily.
The dedicated group of volunteers that help tend the garden will tell you that it is a labor of love and that they get so much out of being there with the girls and is an extremely rewarding experience. They feel that showing them the importance of soil preparation, proper watering, and tending to the young plants teaches them patience and gives them that glowing feeling that success can bring. The garden would not have been possible without the generous support of the Colorado Home and Garden Show, Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado and other community support.
Even the girls who do not work in the garden can experience the rewards. Cindy Quincy, Excelsior’s Food Services Manager, regularly uses the veggies from the garden in the food she and the girls prepare. “We’ve had a ton of tomatoes, peppers and basil this year,” said Cindy, “and we were able to try some different recipes and save money by not having to purchase as many vegetables over the summer.” The girls really get a kick out of seeing a sign that says “Today’s Veggies Come from our Garden”.
With summer winding down, the days getting shorter and the nights getting colder, it’s a matter of time before vines die or go dormant for the winter. However, the experience of getting their hands dirty in the Excelsior garden will live on in these girls for some time to come.