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WARREN Youths in lockup grow garden, gain perspective



Published: Wed, June 6, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The seeds were provided by a grant.

By STEPHEN SIFF

VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF

WARREN -- Seedlings to be planted behind the Brookfield police station germinated in harsh ground.

They sprouted in boxes on windowsills of Trumbull County's juvenile detention facility, tended by children doing time or waiting for a court date. The seedlings spent evenings under a growth lamp in a teacher's office.

Weather permitting Friday, the vegetables and flowers will be placed in freshly turned earth by a different group of children assigned to the task by juvenile court.

Local church leaders will dedicate the 12-by-15 foot plot, and Brookfield volunteers will operate machinery to till the ground.

Tomatoes, squash and peppers planted Friday will bear fruit this summer, tended by other children sentenced to community service.

"I just thought of this kind of on a religious standpoint," said Gary Lees, a juvenile probation officer and Brookfield Township trustee. "You can be born into an environment, as a seed, which is not very good, but if it is fertilized and taken care of properly, the seed can become a healthy plant."

This is a lesson Lees hopes will resonate with children who serve community service time at the garden. Produce will be taken back to the juvenile detention facility for "salads and stuff," he said.

The garden was inspired by a National Garden Association program supporting community and school gardens across the country.

Seeds awarded: Lees said he came across the organization's Youth Garden Grant program last year, applied, and was awarded a variety of seeds, including tomatoes, peppers, squashes and gourds, and marigolds and geraniums to surround the plot and keep out rabbits and moles.

In October and November, the first group of children went out to start work on the garden, breaking up soil and mulching with leaves gathered from senior citizen's lawns.

The children working on the garden will change with time as they finish and are assigned community service time by the court, said Jolene Calderone, who coordinates the juvenile court program.

There are about 25 junior high school and high school-age children, nearly all nonviolent offenders, who are under mandate to do community service at any time, she said.

Once or twice a week throughout the summer, groups of four or five will serve their time at the garden under the supervision of a juvenile probation department officer.

Some of the children in the juvenile detention center who cared for the growing seeds also gained from the experience, although they won't be permitted out to see the garden, said teacher Chris Lowry.

"They watered it and gave it light, and it grew a bit," he said. "I think that they are proud of that."

siff@vindy.com




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