Executive Director, Literacy Connects
Release: March 27, 2018
Literacy Garden Grows a Strong Community Partnership
Late on a recent Monday afternoon, the vacant lot to the east of the Literacy Connects headquarters on East Yavapai Road in Tucson was buzzing with activity. Two women, dressed in brightly printed dresses, were tilling the newly created rows of fertile soil. A teenaged boy and girl were helping, while several smaller children laughed and played on a nearby dirt mound. Long hoses had been laid in the rows and were partially connected to spigots.
It may not have seemed like an unusual sight – perhaps just a local family in the early stages of planting their garden. But this is much more. This is a Literacy Garden.
The Amphi neighborhood, home of Literacy Connects is also home to some 20 refugee families who are working with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) towards successful integration into their new community. The food security program at the IRC provides services such as nutrition education, social and emotional support and enrollment in the SNAP and WIC programs, as well as health insurance and guidance throughout the 5-year journey toward citizenship.
The Literacy Garden is a community partnership between the IRC, Literacy Connects and Habitat for Humanity. Literacy Connects is offering their land and paying the water bill at no charge to the IRC. There will be crops, but that is just the beginning.
“Many of the refugees we work with are from an agrarian background. This is what they know, and how they have fed their families,” says Katrina Martinez, IRC Nutrition and Food Security Program Supervisor, “Literacy Connects is allowing us to use more than a half acre of their land where we will provide seeds, training, community building and peer training.”
The garden will serve as a gathering place for the neighboring community. English classes will be offered. Pre--‐literate adults will learn to read alongside their children. Cooking classes will be taught by representatives from the Garden Kitchen Program at the University of Arizona. Seed saving and water conservation workshops will be held. In addition, those interested in selling their fresh produce via farmers’ markets are offered an offsite 8-week training to become micro producers.
“Offering the land adjacent to ours for a Literacy Garden seemed like such a perfect fit,” says Betty Stauffer, Executive Director of Literacy Connects, “We already serve immigrants through our Adult Basic Literacy and English Language Learner classes, as well as the Women RISE program. It’s a natural extension to offer a place where people can gather, learn from one another and share their unique experiences. It’s all about empowering people to achieve their goals.”
Participants find that growing and preparing their own food makes them feel more at home in their new community. It gives women who are raising young children an opportunity for friendship, an active lifestyle, fresh organic produce, and a means to support their families.
A Community Building Day will take place on April 21st from 8 AM to noon. Volunteers from Habitat for Humanity will be on hand to assist with building the garden and to raise awareness about their services.
In addition, a Garden Launch Party will take place on Friday, May 18th from 4:30 to 7 PM. Anyone is welcome to attend the celebration. Clients, neighbors, IRC representatives and Literacy Connects staff will be on hand to celebrate the team effort, share information about the partnership, and offer ideas on how to get involved.
“Tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, corn and beans have already been planted,” says Martinez, “We are looking forward to our first harvest in July or August.” While the first food will be harvested in late summer, there are other fruits of this community partnership that have already been harvested; Friendship, a sense of belonging, and a path toward a better life for these new neighbors and their families.
For more information, contact Katrina Martinez, Nutrition and Food Security Program Supervisor, International Rescue Committee at (520) 319-2128, extension 106, or Betty Stauffer, Executive Director of Literacy Connects at (520) 882-8006.