Connecting Service and Learning – New Roots Community Garden
Elizabeth Huschke saw the mountains of Boise for the first time on May 22nd when her flight began descending just outside the city. The day also marked the beginning of an eight-week internship with the International Rescue Committee’s New Roots Community Garden Program in Boise.
As a native of Minnesota studying at the University of Notre Dame, She had trouble explaining to friends and family her decision to spend two months far from home in a place she had never even seen. Sometimes she even had trouble explaining it to herself. But then as she continued to research about the work IRC does helping refugees in Boise the more she became convinced of her decision to move to Boise for her internship. Her reasoning was simply “if refugees could travel 12,000 miles to a place they have never known, a language they have never spoken and a culture unfamiliar to them” then her moving to Boise to help these resilient individuals only made sense.
Elizabeth found her way to Boise through Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC). The CSC’s mission is to help make “learning become service to justice” through community-based learning, research, and service informed by Catholic Social Tradition”. One of the CSC’s signature programs is the Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP), which connects students with service organizations across the country through the local alumni clubs. The idea of the program is to connect service and learning through readings and reflections that complement day-to-day work on site.
There are over a hundred Notre Dame SSLP sites scattered across the country related to a wide range of issues. As she pored through sites related to aging, education, poverty, disabilities, and more, she was drawn to the IRC by both the profound vulnerability and the profound hopefulness of refugees creating a new life in a completely foreign land.
New Roots farmers have shown dedication and passion working in the garden, making it a success since 2007. Now in its fourth season, the New Roots garden has produced nutritious vegetables to over 80 families within the Bhutanese, Burmese and Burundian communities, and the program is still growing! This season six of those families are selling fresh vegetables at the Boise City Farmers Market, restaurants, and local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. Elizabeth will take on a supporting role to the New Roots community garden coordinator in identifying new refugee farmers, assigning plots to new families, donor relations and social media outreach, as well as supporting onsite volunteer activities. Aliza Wenk, program coordinator, expresses her enthusiasm, “This will be an opportunity for her to engage with and share in the successes of the refugee families. It’s remarkable to support this opportunity for them to integrate by introducing their own traditions and practices into the local farming community“.
Though the acronym “SSLP” encompasses both the word “service” and the word “learning,” Elizabeth says she has the feeling that she will be doing more of the latter, at least in the beginning. She says “there is so much that I don’t yet know about the work the IRC does and the stories of all of the refugees they serve but this is my opportunity to learn.