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

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

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.

Trellis Stands with the AAPI Community

Trellis Stands with the AAPI Community

Trellis Stands with the Asian-American and Pacific Islander Community

As an organization that was built by, and in service of, individuals representing different races, ethnicities, genders, creeds, and beliefs, Trellis for Tomorrow stands by our friends, neighbors, family, and community members of Asian-American and Pacific Islander descent. The violence, racism and xenophobia we are seeing against AAPI individuals — which increased again during COVID-19 but has long been present under the surface of American life — is destructive to our collective humanity.

Like many of you, we are feeling sad, anxious, traumatized, and stressed by these acts. For those who have been on the receiving end of these crimes, acts or hateful words, we want you to know: we see you, we believe you, and we stand with you. In our work, we aspire to foster compassion and resilience in the communities we serve. The Trellis staff and board is working hard to address the root causes of anger and fear that lead people to hurt one another. We will also be an ally to, and advocate for, anyone who is a victim of, or witness to, acts of violence or discrimination.

Our service to the community is focused on mentorship, empowerment, personal growth, and all forms of justice.  Acts of violence and racism are in direct contrast to our mission and values. It is clear to us that the antidote to violence is love, and that recognizing our inherent connection to one another is requisite to ridding the world of hate. These acts embolden and further motivate us in our effort to spread seeds of hope and compassion as we partner with friends and neighbors to see this vision of a unified world become a reality.

In solidarity and service,
The Board and Staff of Trellis for Tomorrow

A Call For Unity

A Call For Unity

We find ourselves with heavy hearts as our nation awakens every morning awash in pain and suffering. Whether experiencing it in our own circumstances, seeing it on the news or in our neighborhood, or explaining it to our kids, there is no escaping the distress all around us.

The pain we feel now is not new for Black Americans. It simply reflects a heightened level of anguish resulting from decades of racial injustice that includes false promises, broken social contracts, and the propagation of a narrative that the racial divide in our nation is perceived but not real. Our black friends are understandably angry, exhausted, and out of options.

In the words of Van Jones, “where there is common pain, there should be common purpose.” Yet, despite this common pain, we continue to find ways to divide and blame instead of seeking answers, finding unity, and recognizing our oneness.

As White Americans who have benefitted from systemic racism for so long now, today is a day in which we need to stop talking and dig in and do the real work. This moment holds in it the opportunity for a true turning point that we absolutely must seize to stem the tide of suffering across our nation and to bring the unity of humankind into the forefront.

We need to act. This opportunity is at the doorstep of all organizations and individuals, but we feel it particularly critical for an organization such as ours that works daily for greater social, environmental, and economic justice. Each of these areas is deeply and inextricably tied to racial justice. We cannot solve one area without addressing the others. As an organization with an all-white staff, we need to start by looking in the mirror to address our own shortcomings and commit to doing more from there.

While there is no one simple answer, we are making decisions immediately that will set the stage for our next bold moves to support substantial and lasting change. As a first action, we will form a Race Unity Board comprised of diverse people from the communities we serve. The goal of this board will be to create a collaborative plan of action based on diverse views and experiences that will advance racial unity in our programmatic work and for our community.

We honor all in our community who are taking this moment in time very seriously and who stand in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters physically, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise. We must work together to ensure that these recent events are the last in a long series of dominoes that have fallen in a brutal history of racial inequity. We are proud to be a part of this movement and we look forward to partnering with many of you on this most important journey.

If you are interested in getting involved in our Race Unity initiative, please contact our Executive Director, Jennifer Anderson, at janderson@trellis4tomorrow.org.

In partnership,

Trellis for Tomorrow Board and Staff

Trellis for Tomorrow awarded NBC Universal Project Innovation grant!

Trellis for Tomorrow awarded NBC Universal Project Innovation grant!

Trellis For Tomorrow is thrilled and honored to be one of six nonprofits selected by NBC10 Philadelphia and Telemundo 62 to receive their Project Innovation grant! Thank you for recognizing our work and rapid response to the COVID-19 crisis. Due to you and our other supporters, we can diligently continue to connect with local youth and provide healthy, fresh food options to our neighbors!

Learn more here: https://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/nbc10-and-telemundo62-award-project-innovation-grants-to-six-local-nonprofits/2394650/

Read what this teen had to say about caring for our world

Read what this teen had to say about caring for our world

We know our youth are the future.  We know that they hold a special power to help us adults see what is right before us and to answer the call to be better and do more.  At Trellis, we are fortunate to be able to see examples of the power of youth at work every day.  On Saturday, I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel of young people encouraging their peers to act on climate change.  Eleanor VanRheenen, a senior from Conestoga High School, talked about her inspiration to act on climate and how that manifests in her life.  In hindsight, I wish we had recorded the panel (they were all excellent!).  In lieu of having a recording, Eleanor gave me permission to share what she presented with you.  I hope you will find a few minutes to read what she wrote and to let the beauty and power of her words find their way to your heart. – Jennifer Anderson, Executive Director

What We Can Do  by Eleanor VanRheenen

To me, the great thing about an event like this is that we can all come together to compare ideas and notes about what we do to protect the environment. Maybe we each hear something big or small that we can take away to apply in our own lives.

So, I want to share some things I do as a high school student to care for the environment and talk about a few things we can all do, no matter our age. I specifically want to share 4 or 5 things I do in my life.

But before I get into that, I want to talk about what motivates me to care for the earth. The motivating factor for me is a love of nature. I’ll explain a little bit how this motivating factor expresses itself in what I do. The point I want to make here is that this motivating factor is always with me and doing things that align with it feels easy and natural. And tied to who I am as a person.

I want to ask you to reflect on why specifically you care for the environment and how you express that care. Understanding what your motivations are helps you figure out things you can do that are sustainable for you. Things that can easily become habits because they align with your beliefs or motivating passions and have a degree of ease and permanence to them.

It’s also important to remember that you don’t have to do everything you possibly could. 100% commitment to and action on environmentalism is not required to make a difference. Even tiny little partial changes in our consumption or behavior can be significant over time. The things that we each decide to do to help can fit within the lives we have and don’t need to be radical.

I mentioned that I love nature and find motivation in this love to take green steps in my life. I’ve had this love of nature since I was young. I really love being barefoot outside. Actually, one of my parents’ favorite stories about me as a kid is about my dislike for shoes. They say it was impossible to get me to keep them on. I wanted to be able to feel the grass with my feet as I was playing.

This love of nature may not be the reason that motivates you. There are lots of different reasons people are environmentally conscious, but it is helpful to be in touch with what your motivators are. Are they based on scientific data? On economic studies? On keeping yourself and your family healthy? On a moral sense of right and wrong? Or something else? Knowing what motivates you will allow you to identify what steps you can take that will be authentic for you and therefore sustainable for you.

I’ve mentioned that there are several things I want to talk about that even kids like me can do.

The first thing that I do is really acting on my passion and being in nature. Spending time intentionally enjoying and appreciating the outdoors. This is about being in touch with my own love for the nature and allowing it to be front and center in my thoughts regularly. I like to spend a lot of time at Valley Forge National Park. Lately, as it’s been getting colder; I’ll go there, wrap myself in a blanket, and just spend time alone with nature, enjoying its beauty and fragility and strength. Keeping myself outside appreciating nature gives me the regular reminders I need to arrange my life in small but increasing ways that protect and preserve nature.

In this area, it can sometimes be hard to see the direct effects of climate change that other places in the world might experience. But being in touch with nature, my motivator, makes it easier to think about and be inspired to do other things to help the environment.

I want to describe a few of the more specific things to do. These are not hard or even unusual. But they are each tied to my love for nature.

Daily activities around the house can be a place to be greener. I can draw upon my love of nature as I do things around the house. In my life, this means using reusable grocery bags, for example. In my family, we also try not to buy unnecessary items. So, we still some of the same furniture that my parents had in college. Our house is also powered by 100% renewable energy. My dad drives a Chevy Bolt, which is an electric car, and I drive a hybrid. And, of course, we are very deliberate about recycling. Some of these things are easier to do than others, so even making a couple of these choices can be impactful. And some are things that high school kids don’t have control over but are things we can think about as we move into the adult world.

A third thing I’ve done is think about my diet. I spent time learning about the impacts of food production on the earth. This led me to think about the things I eat and the impact that buying those things has. Before reading and learning about these impacts, I didn’t think critically about my food consumption very much. But, it’s actually one of the single biggest things you can do to reduce your environmental impact.

I have since altered my diet. First going vegetarian, and eventually deciding to cut out all animal products and go vegan. Some people may make this choice for health or for moral reasons, but for me, it’s about having a smaller footprint.

Altering your diet this much isn’t required to reduce impact. Even eating less red meat or cheese can reduce impact in significant ways. I would encourage people to think about occasionally choosing a plant-based option.

At school, I have found a few easy things I can do to reduce my environmental impact. For example, I carry my own reusable utensils for lunch. I also use reusable plastic bags, containers, and water bottles. These things require very little effort from me.

And finally, another part of how I show my care for the environment is by getting involved with others who share this interest. Most often, this is through a club at my school called Greening Stoga Task Force.

At the end of last year, we set a few concrete goals for this year. Our biggest goal was eliminating Styrofoam usage in our cafeteria. Styrofoam is not biodegradable, is made using nonrenewable resources, and is not easily recyclable. Our club has been working towards this goal for many years, so we projected that it would take at least a year to achieve it.

Our members, along with a couple passionate parents in the district, made a plan to achieve this goal. We started over the summer with lots of research. The parents and members of our club spent a lot of time understanding the process of purchasing utensils and plates. We also researched lots of alternatives.

When school started, our members attended and spoke at school board meetings and with administration frequently. The administration began to see the merits of our arguments and how much we kids cared about it and actions started to be taken.

Just recently, we actually made the complete switch in our cafeteria away from Styrofoam. This was a huge step for us.

And it now opens the rest of the year for us to focus on more eco-friendly changes we can make in our school, and we have a few plans.

One is that we are working on making the utilities at our school greener. Our members recently attended the facilities meeting, where they discussed this goal. The school is considering hiring the help of a nonprofit organization called the Green Restaurant. This organization evaluates the efficiency of the utilities at schools or restaurants and helps them find greener alternatives. Other schools in our area, like Shipley, have used the Green Restaurant.

Another of our goals is to give younger kids more information about the environment. So, we are currently planning a field trip to some of the local elementary schools. We hope to organize a small science lab experiment to do with them or something to get them involved with the environment.

We are all very busy. As a high schooler, I have many demands from academics to sports to clubs and other interests to college applications. It can be hard to find the time to always prioritize the environment. But by each figuring out what motivates us and what little things we can do, individually or together, that are consistent with that motivation, we can make a big impact.

Planting the Seeds to Social and Emotional Learning Success

Planting the Seeds to Social and Emotional Learning Success

This post is attributed to Hello Insight’s featured case study of Trellis’ Food for Thought program posted on May 8, 2019 by Hello Insight and Pamela Wridt.

In the youth development program, Food for Thought, young people are planting the seeds for their own growth. Through working on organic farms, along with community service projects, youth philanthropy, and weekly projects that focus on repurposing materials into sellable products, young people learn how to work with others and develop workforce readiness skills. The Food for Thought approach is intergenerational and rooted in experiential learning — learning helps establish lasting behavior change through a continuous process of experience, reflection, conceptualization, and experimentation.

Our program teaches specific skills in gardening and farming – that’s the vehicle for teaching transferable skills, such as what it means to be a healthy and productive adult. – Lisa Faranda, Managing Director, Trellis for Tomorrow

The Food For Thought model, started by Trellis for Tomorrow, is exceptional in promoting social and emotional learning (SEL), making them a 2018 Hello Insight HI Impact Award winner. For the last 15 years, Food for Thought has connected young people ages 13 to 18 to the natural world through a holistic approach to programming that integrates environmental issues and workforce readiness skills.

We have a deep respect for the journey that a young person has to traverse from adolescence to adulthood. We understand how hard they have to work to do that with confidence, to do that successfully and with resilience. That’s what drives us. – Bob Steininger, Director, Chester County Youth Programs

Research-Based Best Practices that Boost SEL
With nearly 40,000 young people in the Hello Insight platform, [they] have strong evidence about the key experiences that young people need to increase their SEL. These look different in every program. Here is how Food for Thought does it.

1: Prioritize Young People
Build meaningful relationships by prioritizing young people by setting high expectations for them and inviting them to share their unique experiences and passions with the program.

Food for Thought engages young people in real life experiences related to farming and sustainable business practices. Adult facilitators are trained to support and encourage young people to reflect on their experiences throughout the day. Once young people have identified and understood their experiences, they are asked to think about what they might do better next time, planning and brainstorming strategies for success.

The active experimentation phase of the learning cycle is where young people try out their ideas and plans, testing them in the real world. As adults and young people work through the experiential learning cycle, they develop strong trusting bonds. Young people often share issues that they are struggling with or are bothering them with their team leaders and the program director. One young man turned to staff to ask advice on how to deal with his parents’ divorce. This only occurred because that staff person had shared his own experience of dealing with divorce when he was a student of similar age. And a former team leader mentioned the following regarding memorable moments from the program: “Those conversations about family, school or the future when young people weren’t playing it up for friends, but seriously connecting or asking for advice.”

2: Engage Young People in Interest Exploration
Provide opportunities for young people to explore potential interests, try new things, broaden their horizons, and take risks in a safe space.

At Food for Thought, learning is a very individualized process, and each young person has a unique learning journey as they move through the experiential learning cycle. Bob stated, “Sometimes the kids are just trying to get through each day; some kids bring a lot more challenges from their home life to the farm. We try to meet them where they are.”

As young people engage in experiences, adult staff encourage them to follow their interests, ask inquiry questions and problem solve along the way. Bob said, “we also ask the young people what they liked, what they didn’t like, and what’s important to them.” Food for Thought empowers young people through experiential, intergenerational activities. Participants were able to explore their interests through an offering of elective activities and stress management activities. Staff offered activities that focused on sustainability, be it related to food production, conservation of natural resources, or every day practices that help the planet. Given these options, young people could choose which topic to explore. Staff also offered a variety of stress management techniques, including sketching, journaling, yoga, and meditation. Again, participants were able to sign up for the activity that interested them most.

3: Peer-to-Peer Engagement
Encourage young people to work with and learn about others with differing backgrounds and perspectives by promoting teamwork, group cohesion, and problem solving.

Food for Thought ensures there are opportunities for young people to get to know one another. To accomplish this, they start each day with an icebreaker and end with a daily reflection. Bob says, “We provide opportunities for kids to learn about each other and what they have in common.” During a reflection activity called “Roses and Thorns,” each young person shares a highlight (a rose) and their least favorite thing (a thorn) from the day. They can choose whatever they want. There are guidelines, however, and nobody can say an individual was their thorn.

This activity provides young people the space and time to learn more about each other — such as their preferences, perspectives and feelings. “Roses and Thorns” also promotes their ideas and voices in the program. Adult facilitators treat every thorn as an opportunity for growth, and young people begin to take responsibility for the health and well-being of the group. Bob says, “We try to encourage them to pick something unique to each day and sometimes the kids don’t have a thorn, which is always awesome. Then some of the leaders or the youth will plant their ‘bud’, which is what are they looking forward to the next day.”

4: Goal Management
Plan activities to give young people the chance to practice setting goals, breaking them down into smaller tasks, develop plans of action, and adjust them as necessary.

Through farm work, young people practice goal management on a daily basis. Lisa explained, “On the farm, young people have goals for each day to accomplish.” At Food for Thought, team leaders work with young people to set their own goals, and to help them meet them through reflection activities at the end of each program session. Lisa says, “Team leaders capitalize on their reflection time with young people, asking questions like: Are you meeting your goals? What changes might you make? That’s a regular part of the daily experience.”

About This Case Study
Each year, the Hello Insight team analyzes the data in [their] growing community of more than 500 programs across 20 states to identify those that are supporting exceptional growth in SEL. Celebrating their success through the HI Impact Awards.

The HI Impact Award winning program Food for Thought engages…young people ages 13 to 18 in gardening, sustainable business practices, environmental issues, and workforce readiness projects that integrate environmental issues…