(Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Good things are growing on Young Street.
The Hope Life Learning Center, a Division of Youth Services program, is providing troubled youth with the opportunity to give something back to the community, according to Todd Long, the program's coordinator.
"Right now what were doing is we have what's called community gardens -- we have one in Sikeston and one in Cape Girardeau," Long said. "This is our first year in Sikeston. We've been doing the ones in Cape for a couple of years."
The Hope Life Learning Center, located at 601 Davis Blvd., is a year-round alternative education and treatment facility.
"We provide education and a variety of counseling -- we're not your normal run-of-the-mill school," Long said. In addition to general counseling and drug and alcohol counseling, the Center teaches students life skills and includes job programs.
The program's goal is to keep the children caught up with their education and, if possible, get them back into the public school system "so they can lead a normal, productive life," Long said.
Students are "juveniles who have had a tainted past that are trying to better themselves, get back on track," Long said. Most have had problems in school or trouble with the law or have been in residential programs in the Division of Youth Services.
"Most of the youths have committed crimes toward the community or towards individuals," Long said. "What this does is it assists them in trying to pay back the community and individuals who are in need."
Produce from the garden is made available to the disadvantaged for free at a table placed in front of the garden, which in Sikeston is located on Young Street.
"Whatever is ripe we pick it, put it on the table, and leave it for individuals to take," Long said. "As soon as we put it out on the table it is free for the taking."
The first crop from the Sikeston garden included "tomatoes, a variety of peppers, lettuce, green beans, squash -- I believe they had potatoes," Long said.
Long said he has heard back from a few people in the neighborhood who have have received some of the produce. "They are very thankful -- they appreciate it a lot," he said. "Both of the gardens have been very successful, we've had a great turnout of produce this year. We're going to do it every year. It was very helpful for us, very successful, so we're planning on doing it yearly."
And in addition to using the lot, which was donated for the community garden project, for something productive, "we are keeping it clean, keeping it mowed, so that is beneficial to the community as well," Long said.
Long said he hopes the community will continue to support the project.
"We hope to get businesses involved that can help donate plants, seeds, that kind of stuff, to our organization," he said. "This year we purchased everything through our program."
Long said the community garden project is just one of the ways the Hope Life Learning Center provides students with opportunities to give back to their communities.
"We do a lot of community service for Sikeston and the Charleston areas," Long said. "We're constantly doing community service programs. We're not picky about our community service -- we try to do as much as possible no matter where it's at."