Something special is happening at Trellis for Tomorrow. Beyond the many gardens, hundreds of volunteers, tens of thousands of pounds of organic produce, and the countless meals positively impacted by nutrient-dense foods distributed throughout the region, something incredible is happening within our youth programs.
From the early days and tender beginnings of Trellis for Tomorrow, we have been developing and delivering exceptional youth programs which have had both an immediate and lasting impact in the lives of the young people we serve. In fact, one of our board members – Tessa Henry – is a former participant and a serious advocate for the power of our programs.
(If you missed our blog on the history of our youth programs, you can find it here.)
For nearly 20 years, Trellis has paid close attention to the landscape around us and has cultivated a deep awareness of the pressing needs our young people face. This has enabled us to develop programs that are responsive to current needs and realities and has often placed Trellis at the leading edge of youth engagement and community impact. This is certainly exemplified by our SEED Skills youth program and the Leadership Track that has grown out of it.
“I don’t know where I would be without it.” – SEED Leader
In 2018 we piloted a new program – SEED Skills – which “flipped the script” on our previous models. Instead of bringing young people from their communities for meaningful learning experiences at area farms, we asked: what if we brought the farms into their communities. The result was SEED Skills, which utilizes Student-led Enterprises and Environmental Discovery to engage young people and inspire them to build more sustainable communities.
The success and growth of Trellis’ SEED Skills program has been significant. We have grown to include four garden locations with separate youth cohorts. In 2022, more than 70 young people participated, with many returning for their second or third time in the program.
To support the upward trajectory of these incredible youth, we created our Leadership Track. The Leadership Track provides youth with a chance to grow into new roles, take on more responsibilities, and earn more money while building their resumes and expanding their network and future opportunities.
Qualified candidates are returning participants who attend Springboard– our annual leadership training program for returning youth offered every spring. Upon completion of that training, our staff meets 1 on 1 with each participant discuss interests and skill sets in several categories. If participants have shown initiative and are interested in pursuing a leadership role, they are brought on as either Junior Team Leaders, Senior Team Leaders, or Junior Program Assistants.
We decided early on that, if we truly want these young leaders practice the leadership skills they’re learning, they should really be the ones to shape the program. As a result of this decision, our SEED Leaders have been critical in shaping what it means to be a part of the Leadership Track. Since 2021, our youth leaders have grown this program into a robust – year-round opportunity.
Trellis currently has 11 SEED Leaders, two of whom were recently hired on our staff as Junior Program Assistants. Together, these 11 young leaders have decided to meet on a twice monthly basis throughout the year, discussing matters that are important to our programs and encouraging each other to grow as leaders at school and elsewhere in the community. Trellis hosts many of these meetings and provides materials and training for continued growth.
In 2023 we expect more than 20 young people to participate in Springboard with the hopes of enrolling or continuing on our Leadership Track. It is an impressive group of aspiring leaders. “I am truly in awe of our SEED Leaders,” says Grace Hardy, Trellis’ Program Manager, “I have seen many of these young people grow from shy kids to confident leaders. They are really heading places and it’s an honor to play a role in their lives along the way.”
This piece was co-written by program staff members David Ryle and Grace Hardy. David is our Senior Programs Manager and comes to us with 15 years of experience in community building, social justice work, and organic agriculture. Grace is our Programs Manager and comes to us with nearly 10 years of experience in outdoor education and working with young people to build leadership skills in hands-on environments.