Much more than plants are being cultivated at a nursery nestled beneath hills in Dunedin’s scenic North East Valley.
“We are a work ready, life ready youth development programme,” says a youth worker at YouthGrow, Alana Goldsack.
So, in addition to plants, young lives are nurtured.
“I guess it’s the little stories and we try to hold on to the little stories,” she says.
A beautiful wooden picnic table is just one of those tales.
This story started when three students came up with the idea to make a table. Together with a youth worker, they drew plans, bought materials and built the table, which now sits in the workshop.
In labouring on such projects, young people discover their inherent worth, Alana says.
[They] slowly start to break down the narratives that they tell themselves, such as ‘I’m worthless’.
“No, you’re not.”
A hands on approach
Young people spend between two months and two years at the plant nursery, acquiring work and life skills which aid their transition to work, further education or independence.
YouthGrow students fall into two main categories.
The first group is under 16-years-old and not at high school. Legally they have to be, so the programme provides alternative education.
“We offer a more hands-on approach here.”
The second group consists of those over 16-years-old. YouthGrow helps them manage their mental health as they work towards getting jobs, studying or independence.
Some are managing anxiety and the nursery imparts a calmer environment with fewer people than other situations, Alana says.
Success for some students can be turning up at 9am every Monday to Friday.
“It can be a really empowering thing for someone that’s been hanging out in their bedroom…it can be an achievement to be here five days a week.”
Building self-esteem and confidence
If they want to, youngsters can leave the programme with National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) Level One and Two.
A third of students graduate from YouthGrow and enter further education. One this year went back to high school. Some go to the Otago Polytechnic or other courses.
A third of the students join the paid workforce and YouthGrow has often organised work experience opportunities for them.
Alana shares another encouraging story.
A girl came to YouthGrow two years ago, wanting to train in early childhood care but not having the confidence to go to polytechnic.
During her time at the nursery, she worked on her self-confidence and is now much more self-assured.
Helping her realise what she’s capable of and that she can just get in there and give things a go.”
This young woman graduated from YouthGrow last year. This year she’s studied at the Otago Polytechnic and attained NCEA Level Two plus a job relieving at an early childhood centre.
She’s studying for a Level Three qualification and is proud of herself, now being able to carry out tasks without needing others’ affirmation.
“A massive increase in self-esteem…she can go out and function as an adult with confidence,” Alana says.
Social enterprise at work
YouthGrow is a fully functioning social enterprise garden centre and youth grow and look after many of its plants.
Dunedin locals pop in to buy plants, seeds, pea straw or compost from the inviting shop at the site.
The nursery supplies vegetables grown from seed, bulbs, herbs, rhododendrons, roses, perennials, succulents, trees, a small range of indoor plants and a good native plant selection. Also depending on the season, berries and seed potatoes.
Students aged between 14, although usually 15 or 16, and 25-years are involved with most aspects of the horticulture. They also set up the shop each weekday.
“For some of them it’s exciting to be trusted to count the money in the morning.”
They practise literacy and numeracy through baking and the preparation of a weekly communal lunch, which students plan, buy ingredients for and cook. Butter chicken is a favourite.
The youngsters develop mechanical skills by maintaining tools and equipment.
Alana describes a multitude of other means by which the youth garner life and work skills plus educational qualifications through practical, hands-on learning.
Equally as much it’s about them learning to work together as a team and support each other.”
Such as in building a picnic table.
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