The Pathways Gardening Club
Posted July 14, 2014
About three months ago the Community Integration Department formed a partnership with Jessica Shoffner. She graduated from Kansas State several years ago with a degree in Horticultural Therapy and has a community garden she has been tending in North Philadelphia for several years. We connected with her to help facilitate our Garden Club and to give our participants an opportunity to get outside and interact with each other. Being in the garden together allows participants to work, see growth, and experience positive change in a rough neighborhood.
There was one participant, we’ll call him Steve, who has been with PTHPA for almost 4 years. He had never been to a community outing and actively declined all invitations, but when he saw that we were going to the garden he got excited and reached out to his team and asked if he could go. When Steve was getting picked up he shared that when he was younger he was in a gang in the same neighborhood as the garden. He stated that he had sold a lot of drugs, hurt a lot of people, and regretted the life he used to live. He anticipated a lot of changes in the neighborhood and was looking forward to doing something positive were he had done so much wrong.
Steve and I weeded a bed together in the garden. It was hard and sweaty work as we had to be careful not to lose too much soil when we pulled to weeds. We’d then put them in piles and I’d take them away. When working in the garden I try and allow for space and to let the participant break the silence. Sometimes it can be as hard as the weeding. We worked together for some time and, eventually, he said, “You know, Rob, something feels off being here. I messed up so many things in my life and it went down right around the corner.” I replied, “Yeah, Steve. We all make mistakes - some bigger and farther reaching than others. Do you think being here and weeding this garden changes anything?” Steve stopped for a moment in serious thought then said, “I don’t think it changes anything that I did, but doing something good here helps. It’s slow work, but in the end it’ll be big.” And that was it. He didn’t have anything to say after that and kept pulling weeds. Later, when we were about to leave, Steve said he was going to take the bus. He wanted to walk around the neighborhood and see some old places. I’ve thought about his insight to weeding and how it applies to all the things we do at Pathways. It is slow work, but in the end it’ll be big.