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29 May 2018

A community that grows together, stays together

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s Youth Community Greening program celebrated its 10 year anniversary at one of the first gardens established in the program, Bidwill Community Garden in Mount Druitt. Youth Community Greening shares horticultural expertise 'beyond the garden walls' to vulnerable preschools, migrant youth groups, youth off the Streets, Juvenile Justice centres, disability groups and many more young people across New South Wales.

Over the past decade this program has been able to support the development of more than 326 gardens, 73,263 participants and train 930 teachers. And on this very special occasion of our 10 year anniversary, we couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate then to spend the morning with the local community of Bidwill and two inspiring young men, John and Keith, two boys that grew up next to the community garden.

The neighbourhood boys

The dynamic-duo spent endless hours being entertained in the garden by Youth Community Greening activities and enjoying the fresh fruit and vegetables that they helped plant. From the age of nine, the neighbourhood boys took part in the free after school program, school holiday activities, special occasions and weekend events in the Bidwill Community Garden as part of the Youth Community Greening program.

Their early childhood memories of hearing laughter in the garden and the smell of fresh vegetables on the barbeque are a far cry from the reality of other children that grow up in low-economic areas where drugs, depression and neglect are all too familiar.

The boys didn’t know it at the time, but the hive of positive activity right next door was a convenient after school safe haven – times that could have easily been lonely or made them a target of negative social influences if left to their own devices.

The boys were part of the first Youth Community Greening gardens 10 years ago 


As the neighbour of the garden, Keith would climb onto his trampoline to take a better look at the activities that the Youth Community Greening Officer, Elizabeth Docking, was planning for the day. He would pop his head over the fence to enquire or just to chat with Elizabeth before recruiting John to join him in the garden for a fun afternoon.
 
They boys loved the social aspect of the garden, the challenges that Elizabeth would make up for them and the feeling that the neighbourhood was bonding while tending to veggie patches amongst the rich smell of soil.
 
As the kids grew, so did Youth Community Greening – the program began to cater to older children who enjoyed the educational challenges, despite it being school holidays or after school. It is with these challenges that Elizabeth found Keith and John in their element. Keith’s ‘over the fence’ conversations would also enquire ‘will there be a challenge today?’

Quite often the boys were joined by Keith’s mum Mary, who usually was the only parent attending. While not always being able to assist the boys with their challenge, she was there for moral support.

Outside of the day to day activity, the community garden is a meeting spot during the holidays such as Christmas and Easter. A place where the neighbourhood comes together for the biggest and best celebrations in Bidwill. To Elizabeth’s delight, Keith and John have become admirable young men, who are part of their community and continue to come to the garden and assist with events – helping to sell raffle tickets and clean up.
 
Like many of their neighbours, they believe that the garden is not about charity but community. Friendships, skill sharing and working together are as much of a priority as sowing seeds and propagating plants. It’s about the kids, families, adults and elders from the wider community that all get involved, take stewardship of the projects and guide the gardens into their future for further generations to enjoy.

Where are they now?

Ten years later, 19-year-old Keith is a successful second-year student, undertaking a Bachelor of Teaching in Mathematics at the Australian Catholic University in Strathfield. The ambitious teen intends to be a mathematics teacher after he graduates. Keith's parents are proud of his achievements - after all, he is the first person in his family, including his half siblings to go to university.
 
John has taken some time off after graduating high school to work fulltime and save money. The now 19 year old gifted artists, has dreams of starting a career in animation.
 
Together they designed an educational app called “Maths Chasers” as part of a competition run by TAFE. John completing the drawings while Keith designed the mathematics equation to allow the player to move through challenges. They came second in the competition and were pleased with the results.
 

John and Kieth at  the Youth Community Greening 10 year celebration at Bidwill Community Garden

 

The unsung hero of Youth Community Greening

Elizabeth Docking has spent the last 10 years working as a Youth Community Greening Officer and had the pleasure of seeing Keith and John blossom into young adults. The Bidwill Community garden was Elizabeth’s first experience with the program and soon afterwards she was introduced to the sole volunteer at the garden – Marjorie Mead. There was however a good support network in place at the time with some of the original people now celebrating the 10 year anniversary of Youth Community Greening with Elizabeth today.
 
The support team from Bidwill Uniting, Juvenile Justice, Blacktown City Council and the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) were keen to engage the community in this garden and this included the local youth. Elizabeth set out putting on after school and school holiday events, usually with a theme, such as Biodiversity Day, NAIDOC week and a day to get to know the food and traditions of the South Sudanese families that had newly settled in Bidwill.

Keith, John, Marjorie and Elizabeth tour the Bidwill Community Garden


From her very first event at the Bidwill Garden in May 2008, celebrating Biodiversity Day, she met Keith and John – who were only nine years old at the time. She has memories of Keith popping his head over the fence, firstly asking what was happening today, usually followed by “can I help you.”
 
The children who come to Youth Community Greening activities often don’t arrive with an adult and don’t have experience in gardens – some of which have never seen a vegetable grow or know where fruit comes from. But children soon learn that they can be entertained for free for a few hours, get something tasty to eat and usually get to take something home with them, like a plant they pot or cut flowers they arrange.
 
And the lone volunteer of the Bidwill Community Garden all those years ago? Marjorie Mead has been a stalwart for the garden beyond 10 years and her volunteer work with people of all ages, resulted in her winning a state seniors award for Intergenerational Understanding. With reduced outside support, it is these volunteers and Youth Community Greening that ensure that work with the youth of Bidwill continues.

 
 

Of all the Youth Community Greening gardens started, over 70% are still going – demonstrating how important and fulfilling it is for today’s youth to reconnect with nature and find their identity in an ever-changing world.

The celebrations at the Bidwill Community Garden are another example of how Youth Community Greening brings neighbours together to make memories, life-long friendships and delicious homecooked food.
 
To learn more about the Youth Community Greening program or to get involved visit the website here

Category: News
Tags: community
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