It’s a hot summer afternoon in Tukwila, Washington and a group of high school students are hard at work shoveling a dirt path at the IRC’s Namaste Community Garden, a community space for refugee and immigrant families to cultivate healthy foods. The teens are building a wheelchair-accessible pathway for an IRC gardener. This is just one example of how Youth Roots interns are giving back to their community this summer.
Fourteen students from Tukwila committed five weeks of their summer vacation to an internship program with the IRC in Seattle. The internship empowers newcomer students to be leaders in environmentalism and food justice in their communities through hands-on, interactive learning. Every week the internship brings new challenges and experiences: “I like that I’m getting out of my comfort zone,” said Tyliana, one of the Youth Roots interns.
Throughout the summer, students have studied plastics under microscopes at the MaST Aquarium, cultivated fresh vegetables at Elk Run Farm to supply local food banks, helped sell produce at the Namaste Farm Stand, and even launched their own social media platforms to document their internship experience with Tukwila Teen Librarian, Rachel McDonald.
When asked what they liked most about the internship, students said they enjoyed getting out of the house and learning new things. “I never knew soda destroyed your teeth and that’s what the ocean is doing to shells,” said one student. Another reflected, “Throughout this month, I’ve learned about different types of vegetable and plants that are grown throughout the year. And that I like cooking.”
One day at the community garden, while students learned to prepare garden beds, an elder stopped by. Since he couldn’t communicate with the students in a shared language, the gardener signaled for the interns to watch as he planted a seed of corn. After his demonstration, he gave the students a big smile and thumbs up before heading back to farm. The students later said they thought this elder was a good example of a leader.
Youth Roots does more than teach students about food justice and environmental leadership. It connects students to their community in a deep way, whether through learning how to garden alongside their elders or helping someone at the Namaste Farm Stand find the right foods for their family.
Through programs like Youth Roots, the IRC is helping refugee and immigrant youth build social connections, learn new skills, and ultimately feel more at home in their new schools and communities. We plan to continue the Youth Roots internship next summer, empowering even more students to become leaders of positive social change.
Interested in supporting newcomer youth in our community? Volunteer as a tutor! Learn more or sign up for an information session here!