Students connect hard work in a garden with hard work in life.

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - What a group of teenagers may lack in people skills, they make up in responsibility and perseverance. "Hey, come on dude, you got to push that up some more," barked one dissatisfied student when the wheelbarrow didn't get quite close enough to a pile of mulch. "Shut up," came back the wheelbarrow pusher. The conversation all said with smiles on their faces.

At the summer start they were students who knew better the rough and tough relationship with one another, than planting flowers.  Now they can prepare a garden site with the best of gardeners.  They transformed an unsightly corner at Univesity and East Main into a place where butterflys flutter and flowers bloom.

The teens are participants in the summer work YouthGrow Program.  "The summer was hard. It was hot, it was hard, but they worked very diligent through it," Joann Carter, Nacogdoches County Master Gardeners president said. "June nearly killed us with temperatures reaching 105, but we kept at it," Carter laughed.

The students learned how hard rock dirt can turn into a garden of possibilities. The secret....time, patience and hard work.  Pretty much what was required of the students chosen to participate in YouthGrow.

In the mornings they are tutored by faithful volunteers who despise a commonly used term.   "They were called at-risk kids," Cottrell McGowan said. "I don't like that name because most people think about that name and they think about bad kids. These kids are not bad. Those kids just need a little guidance."

McGowan has led a group of 'mature' volunteers for two years as they tutor on a weekly basis at Nacogdoches schools. The volunteers purposely do not have a group name. "Our work is not about us. It's about the kids. Why bring attention to ourselves through a name?," McGowan explained.

Fertilize the kids with a little recognition and you've got the formula for a well rounded student. The demonstration garden is probably on one of the busiest corners in Nacogdoches. And much to the delight of the students passersby are taking notice. "They started honking at us, letting us know, I guess, that we're doing our job," Jamarcus Green, 17, said.

In addition for a job well done, the students earn a full day's salary. The funds come from a grant administered through the Deep East Texas Council of Governments. Nacogdoches County commissioners provided support in the program.

Students learn you reap what you sow. "We spent a lot of time digging up rocks and pulling weeds before these flowers started growing," Meocian Pleasant, 18, explained. The tutoring sessions recently helped her pass her Exit TAKS test needed for graduation. The young woman now understands how the investment people placed in her, is similar to the energy she invested in a patch of dirt. "First you got to take your time with a person and then get involved with that person," Pleasant said.

The students also learned not all the plants grow, no matter how hard they took care of them.   Likewise, not all YouthGrow students flourished.  The program started with 15 students, but ended with 10. "Four were told not to come back because of discipline issues. The other one just never came back," McGowan shared. Nevertheless, McGowan is pleased with the results. "If we can help as many as 10 young adults to return to school and get the education they need we have succeeded," McGowan said.

Youthgrow proves the effort is a seed that can grow into a life's worth of opportunities.

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