GCC is BUILDing a Brighter Future for At-Risk Kids in Chicago

Two students gardening during our inaugural summer youth program in 2017.

Two students gardening during our inaugural summer youth program in 2017.

By Tracie Bedell and Laurie Casey

This summer, GCC’s “I Can Fly” mentoring and garden education program is returning, bigger and better than before in the Austin neighborhood. The program has a new name and new energy, thanks to new funding and a stronger partnership with Broader Urban Involvement & Leadership Development (BUILD), an organization that has been serving at-risk youth in Chicago’s most challenging neighborhoods for 50 years. Their mission is “...to engage at risk youth in schools and on the streets to help them realize their potential and contribute to our communities.”

The program, which combines the infrastructure of BUILD’s “Austin Grown” program with the enrichment components of GCC’s I Can Fly program, to form a holistic approach to urban farming and how lessons learned could be carried forward and taught to others. This summer’s program will include many of those elements, including activities such as:

●       Preparing, planting, caring for, and harvesting a farm as well as an urban garden

●       Cooking easy, healthful meals using harvested produce, which includes providing recipe cards and meals to take home to share with family members

●       Understanding how gardening and farming can improve their own health and emotional well-being as well as that of their community (and ultimately, the planet)

●       Discovering how lessons learned can fit into a student’s career path, even if they are not “farmers” per se

●       Participating in field trips to related area organizations, to reinforce lessons learned

We are especially excited because the 2019 Austin Grown program will include 10 students, three of whom are returning from the 2017 I Can Fly program! They’ll earn $8.25 an hour during the 20-hour workweek. The program culminates on August 22, when participants will present their “capstone” projects. Through these capstone project presentations, students will show how their understanding has come full-circle and positive ways they look to carry their learning forward to create change in their own community and beyond.

The curriculum will feature mentors from community organizations like Sugar Beet Schoolhouse, West Cook Wild Ones, Flybird Experience, The Field Museum, Chicago Style Vegan, and the Obama Foundation, as well as chefs from local restaurants, who will run workshops on cooking fresh food. Several field trips are planned as well.

Learn more about BUILD at Buildchicago.org.

To sponsor or donate to support this program, go here.