By Melissa Valentine, Program Coordinator, WestCare Dixon Springs SIP/DuQuoin SIP
Earlier this year, WestCare Illinois had a unique opportunity to embark on a brand-new journey that was funded by the Chicago Region Food System Fund (CRFSF). We applied for and received funding from a new grant that enabled us to work alongside two different Chicago-based organizations: Olive-Harvey Middle College High School and New Life Baptist Church. By partnering together, we were able to implement a food system workforce within these two communities by connecting people to sustainable agricultural skills and tools. The individuals that have been working on these gardens were aged 16 – 80 and their efforts blossomed into two beautifully sustained gardens cultivated by the community in areas described as, “fresh food deserts.” In addition to the physical and mental health benefits that were provided to our participants through their service, they also learned about the importance of maintaining a balanced diet and avoiding preventable diseases. By volunteering, they were able to take part in a positive alternative to at-risk behaviors, participate in regular skill-building activities, revive/beautify community areas and strengthen social connections as well as community ties.