HHSA Mental Health Program Allows Teens To Grow Through Gardening

Mental illness doesn’t stop these teens from making a difference in the world. For 24 boys and girls, ages 13–17, living at the San Diego Center for Children’s Clark Adolescent Program, the focus is on positive behavior and the progress each adolescent makes to gain control of his or her behaviors and emotions. Staff works hard to create and sustain an environment where adolescents recognize they are cared for by people who see their potential.

The Center’s Life Skills Program, funded by San Diego County Mental Health, allows teens who live at the Center the opportunity to learn about sustainable living through a hands-on Green Program. Each week, the teens and staff pick up compostable material from Cucina Urbana (a Banker’s Hill restaurant), Currant American Brasserie (a downtown restaurant), and from the Center’s own kitchen. The teens deliver the compostable material to Olivewood Garden, Suzie’s Farm and the Center’s campus garden. Compost is created in these three places to help grow organic fruits and vegetables.

“This project is really about providing the opportunity for the teens to contribute to a sustainable community and build relationships with respected chefs and farmers in their community,” says Tina Reyes, the Life Skills Coordinator. The teens feel great when they get to go into “the back of the house” in a restaurant and talk to the chef, taking pride in helping the chef with composting while representing the Center in this community service project. The teens also love picking the freshly grown rosemary in the Center’s garden and taking it to the chefs so they can use it in their menus.

The teens look forward to visiting with the chefs and farmers each week and take pride in giving back to their community. They have also started their own garden beside the cottage they live in on the Center’s campus. The teens will begin to grow some of their own food because they have become more engaged in healthy living and creating a sustainable community. The teens also attend full-time school, and participate in the Center’s music, arts, and recreation programs.