The Community Sharing Garden in Beloit is free and open to all, but it takes a lot of work to maintain the plants. Luckily, Community Action Program Director John Ramstad usually has volunteers on hand to help.
On Wednesday, the Unitarian Universalism Youth Midwest Leadership School spent their afternoon volunteering at the plot. They pulled weeds, watered and mowed despite the heat. The workers were all high-school age, and they are a part of a youth leadership program Beloit College has held for the past few summers.
The one-week session brings together kids from all over the Midwest. Aislynn Pasierb said she appreciates the chance to learn more about her religion, how to lead and how to respect her peers.
“We divide into groups and are assigned deeper topics, and it really encourages us to talk about our lives,” Pasierb said. “This helps us become better leaders and better team members.”
Youth leader Ben Wallace said his group focuses on social justice issues, too, like gay marriage and gay rights.
“We’re part of a movement called ‘Standing on the Side of Love,’” Wallace said. “We want to support everyone’s rights.”
Each student involved in the weeklong seminar was chosen to attend, and Wallace said they were all sponsored, most by their churches. The students ranged from high school freshmen to seniors, and Wallace said there’s also an adult school.
“This is our third year partnering with Community Action,” Wallace said. “John and Community Action are one of the best partners we’ve ever had. They do amazing things in the community.”
Wallace said it’s often hard to find steady partners to volunteer with, but working with Community Action in Beloit is always organized and informational.
“He called and asked if I could put 40 teenagers to work,” Ramstad said. “I said, of course!” Ramstad is proud of the Merrill Community Garden, and Wallace said he appreciates what it stands for in a community.
“You can’t steal what’s willingly given,” Wallace said. “It feels good to do this work for a community that will use it. Everyone’s got to eat.”