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World Relief Seattle

World Relief Seattle2020 Youth Garden Grant winner World Relief Seattle is using their Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden to empower refugee and immigrant youth and their families. Located in Kent, WA, the Paradise Parking Plots has grown steadily since 2017 when a local church donated a 1-acre parking lot to World Relief Seattle, a nonprofit dedicated to serving New American families in the Greater Seattle area. Over the years and with the help of over 1,500 volunteers, the once bare asphalt lot has transformed into a vibrant garden complete with 50 raised beds, a 16,000 gallon rainwater catchment system, food forest, bioswale, and youth-designed rain garden.

While the Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden was created with environmental stewardship in mind, the social mission behind the garden is just as, if not more, important. The garden serves as a location where immigrant and refugee families can grow culturally relevant foods and build community relationships. Community Garden Coordinator Lucas McClish explains that the site also functions as an educational space where refugee and immigrant youth can “learn all about growing healthy foods, learn how to grow food in small containers in their apartments, and learn about the importance of protecting the local environment. As members of communities who are adversely impacted by environmental degradation and limited food access, this knowledge and hands-on experience is power.”

Youth primarily engage in the garden through World Relief Seattle’s Next Generation program, which includes a Refugee Youth Summer Academy. Normally this Academy, which helps kids in grades K-8 improve their language, literacy and social skills, runs for five weeks each summer and includes a variety of hands-on activities. “We have a water catchment system on site, so one example of a fun engaging lesson we do involves giving the kids trays that act as gardens and then challenging them to engineer their own piping irrigation system” says Lucas. The garden has also inspired discussions about watersheds, plant biology, and the role that culture plays in food and nutrition.

This summer, things have looked a little bit different—the Academy is almost entirely virtual. This transition to distance learning has proven tricky, but not insurmountable for Katie Stoppler who oversees all of World Relief Seattle’s Next Generation programming. “We had to figure out how to integrate the things that are so wonderful and beneficial to students, such as time in the garden, and implement them in a remote way.” Virtual learning about garden and food-related topics has been conducted via Zoom and combined with opportunities for youth to visit the Paradise Parking Plots with their families. During these visits Katie, Lucas and other Summer Academy educators have engaged participating kids in physically distant activities.

Lucas notes that the funds and materials provided by the Youth Garden Grant have helped during these challenging times. “Everything takes more time and resources these days, but we’ve still been able to take the immersive garden curriculum we created and revamp it so that it can pretty much be done over zoom.” Taken together with occasional trips to the garden, the Summer Academy has been able to keep participating refugee and immigrant youth socially connected and engaged in meaningful learning.