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Summer in the Garden – A Lesson on Mint and Abuse

By:  Colleen Curtin, Youth Program Coordinator, DVN

This summer we strayed from the typical DVN youth programming and did some pretty wild stuff. We took a deep dive into a project based on the idea that summer provides us with some extra time to bring violence prevention, education and programming to some of the most at-risk kids in Central Indiana. For the past several months, nature was our classroom at the Julian Center and plants, bugs, water and sunshine were our mediums to communicate dignity, respect, consent, equality, compassion and kindness to a group of incredible children and teens.

We started a bit late, all of our plants and supplies were donated, some of us were seasoned gardeners and others wouldn’t touch a bug. Let’s just say it’s been a summer of growth, but we’ve come a long way. The kid who wouldn’t sit on the grass at the beginning of the summer is now rearranging the contents of the compost bin. We have had lessons on respect, kindness, advocacy, community helpers, support systems, communication, empathy – just to name a few. And those were just the planned lessons. The garden, as we suspected, was an excellent space to learn about relationships – healthy and otherwise. I have a few little snapshots to share with you about the lessons this project has provided to us this summer. Some were lessons we had carefully planned and others were brought to us by Mother Nature.

We were weeding in the herb garden to remove some of the mint that had overtaken the other plants, and I was explaining to my two middle and high school-aged helpers how mint works. It is an invasive plant that will take up all of the space and budge out the other plants in its path to get the most sun, water and nutrients for itself. The conversation that followed between the two boys touched on bullying, the violence they had experienced in their families and their desire to not be like mint, bullies, or abusers.

A week or so later we were planting more herbs and flowers. I taught the kids who were helping me about sunflowers and how they need some extra care at first because squirrels love their seeds. We talked about the helpers in their lives – the advocates and staff at Julian Center, their teachers and support systems at school and their families. Celebrating these helpers and the impact they have made and continue making in these kids lives was one of my favorite moments in the garden this summer.

I wish I could capture the pride in their smiles when they share this garden space with their moms, whether it is in the potted plants they bring back to their family rooms or when they visit the garden together in the evening to help harvest, water, or weed. This space has become so special not only to these children and teens but also to their families and both of the teams at DVN and the Julian Center.

I am already looking forward to the ways this project blossoms at the Julian Center and in other spaces across our community as we continue to look for ways to bring these important lessons to people of all ages across Central Indiana.