20 Years in the Making: Trellis for Tomorrow turns 20!

by | Jan 23, 2023

Introduction by Clemens Pietzner, founder of Triskeles Foundation (later Trellis for Tomorrow)

“As the founder of Triskeles Foundation, I was inspired to help build an organization that was about bridge building between ages, mindsets, backgrounds, and a broad range of learning and working opportunities—especially with and for youth, which could lead to pathways forward for individuals and their communities.

The organization’s youth programs began in 2002 and were based on a few simple but powerful guiding principles that hold true today:

  • Young people can and often do offer a great deal to and for their communities.
  • The world is complex and can be confusing; experiential learning can provide a path forward for young people in terms of skill acquisition; growth and self- development.
  • Access to, growing and understanding healthy food and food systems is a central building block to healthy individuals and communities.
  • Access to working/learning opportunities and exposure to positive mentors and service- to self, family, and community in a context of co-creating a better world for all, can provide inspiration and motivation.
  • Positive change is possible—in smaller and bigger ways.

Twenty years later, our world has changed, but I know that many, many young people, and their communities, have been and continue to be touched by these principles while participating in Trellis programs.  The testimony to Trellis’ success are the positive legacies and changes they, their families and communities, in turn, have experienced.

Being “of service, or in service” to others is a long-term journey and ever-changing experiment of social, financial, and relational realities combined with imagination, grit, determination, and joy. Trellis for Tomorrow continues to be on that journey!”

What inspired you to get involved with Trellis for Tomorrow?

Ray Schneider former Board President 2010-2021 | From the beginning I was drawn to Triskeles/Trellis because of a most unique approach to achieving a mission that was multidimensional — bringing young people into a close relationship with their innate capabilities, their health, and the health of their communities.  Over the years the organization has refined its programs and dramatically improved its ability to make positive change at both the individual and community level.  Seeing the impact on so many young lives, helping them reach their full potential, has been heartwarming and often tear inducing!

Tessa Henry former Youth Participant, current Board Member 2004-Present | In high school, I became increasingly interested in food and hunger issues. One of my teachers and mentors at the time encouraged me to seek a volunteer opportunity with Trellis. Immediately, I was impressed by their commitment to local gardens, healthy food, and providing professional development opportunities for youth in the Montgomery and Chester County areas. I was initially inspired by the leadership of the organization. Their vision and passion for fostering community gardens since 2003 was exciting. Twenty years later, the organization’s leadership continues to inspire me and the communities it serves. Last year, more than 600 volunteers dedicated their time in a local garden. This is a testament to Trellis’ dedication and extraordinary staff.  I am so grateful for their support, learning opportunities, and care that I proudly serve as one of their Board members today.

What was the field of gardening education like when you first got involved/started working with us?

Mark Birdsall Director of Youth Programs 2004-2016 | There wasn’t much of it. Federation of Neighborhood Centers, in Philly, had one program started about the same time as FFT and similar, but not much else.

What was your biggest “lesson learned” during your time with Trellis for Tomorrow?

Mark Birdsall Director of Youth Programs 2004-2016 Perhaps twofold: First, if you give young people truly real experiences, ones that are addressing the changes needed in the world, and if you connect them with adults passionate about their own work as part of this experience, then magic happens. Second, hire people to work with you who share as much of your passion and vision as possible, and then leave them as free as possible, including them in decision making and supporting them when they need it.

Tell us about one of your “firsts” during your time with Trellis for Tomorrow.

Mark Birdsall Director of Youth Programs 2004-2016 | I was interviewed on WHYY radio by Mike McGrath, host of You Bet Your Garden. He had heard about our Food for All program and invited me to talk about it and (Triskeles Programs) Trellis. Mike was a very good interviewer and we clicked, and I got to talk about FFA and many other things we were doing to a national audience on NPR. That was the first time I was on national radio!

What is one of your favorite memories from your time with us?

Ray Schneider Board President 2010-2021 | Some years ago during a Triskeles staff and Board dinner, we were discussing our programs, their effectiveness and future.  Right in the middle of our conversation, out of nowhere, our waitress interrupted and asked, “are you all from Triskeles?”  We all turned, nodded, and said yes.  At which point, on the verge of tears, she began to tell us that her son was a “graduate” of our summer program and described how the program had literally changed his life and maybe even saved it, because he wasn’t on a good path prior to his involvement with Triskeles.  Of course, the staff remembered her son and had all good things to say about him.  Well, that just about brought us all to tears – happy tears.

What do you like most about the culture of Trellis for Tomorrow?

Mark Birdsall Director of Youth Programs 2004-2016 | We’re an organization where we value each other’s strengths, support each other where they need support, and put our work for young people first.

How do we stand out from other organizations?

Ray Schneider Board President 2010-2021 | I believe that Trellis programs are uniquely positioned to answer the call so many

communities are making — help us to help our young people make better life choices and help us to help our community members live healthier lives.

Tessa Henry former Youth Participant, current Board Member 2004-Present |I first joined the organization as a youth participant in 2004.  Their youth programs taught me about sustainability, the significance of a healthy diet, and most importantly, what it means to be an active and engaged member of your community.  At the age of 17, I acquired new skills which became extremely valuable when I started my career as a young adult.  I honed my leadership skills through my time as an honorary member of their board when I was in high school.  I learned to empathize and strengthened my social skills when volunteering in community gardens and speaking on behalf of the organization to local businesses.

I use these skills every day in my work as a U.S. Diplomat overseas.  Being a public servant requires empathy and a passion to drive change.  Much of my desire to serve stemmed from my first interactions at Trellis.  I am a proud example of the steadfast commitment this organization has to the youth that it serves.  Their mission inspired me, their programs tapped my potential as a leader, and their impact today keeps me engaged as a volunteer in 2023.  Trellis is unique because their programs have a long-lasting impact for young adults.  Youth participants in Trellis are not only learning about food and healthy lifestyles, but they also go on to THRIVE and be successful in their future endeavors.

Do you have any advice for up-and-coming board members?

Ray Schneider Board President 2010-2021 | Future Board members should understand that being a part of the Trellis family means that your voice is important and the skills, experiences, and energy you bring are valued.  So don’t join if your goal is to just have a neat sounding non-profit on your resume.

Tessa Henry former Youth Participant, current Board Member 2004-Present | Be present.  We are often overwhelmed with our family and career obligations.  However, when you can engage Trellis as a participant, employee, or board member please remember that this organization really values your time.  Your contributions and skills really matter, and they will help this organization grow.  We want to hear your thoughts and ideas.  Being fully engaged is critical.

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