Adapting (again and again) – what’s next when plans don’t pan out
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” Audrey Hepburn
When I look back to my last blog post, we knew we had an uphill climb ahead with the West Orange school district starting the year fully remote for the first marking period. However, based on the many planning calls and Zooms with the Superintendent, I was optimistic that we had a solid plan to provide a Full Day Care program to meet the needs of working families. Along with my colleagues, we looked forward to returning to St. Cloud on September 14. We envisioned the grant project flourishing as an afternoon enrichment program for our students, with digging in the dirt the perfect antidote to time in front of screens and online learning.
As August continued into September, we had our reality check. The level of fear and uncertainty for many families was still very elevated. Families were working from home and concerned about finances. Despite having a proven track record of safely running an Emergency Child Care and Summer Camp program and the availability of financial assistance and tuition support from the school district, families were reluctant to commit to the Y program. It was with a heavy heart that we cancelled the St. Cloud program prior to the first day of school.
Throughout the turmoil (mostly mine) the garden beds continued to thrive under the guidance of our garden guru Cherie. Local residents, Mary and Twanisha, took on watering duties through the dog days of summer. The beds yielded basil, cucumbers and tomatoes which were donated to the local food pantry at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Orange. The Y had also been providing weekly produce boxes to Holy Trinity to support their work with food insecure individuals and families as part of our Food Access program in collaboration with the Y State Alliance and SeaShore Produce. Like many food pantries, Holy Trinity saw a dramatic increase in need due to the coronavirus pandemic, with many turning to the food pantry for assistance for the first time. The food pantry served over 300 families per week over the summer, providing staple food items and necessities such as diapers and pet food.
We continue to negotiate the safe return to school in our four school districts (West Orange, Roseland, Caldwell and Livingston) with much lower than usual enrollment. Although the program is not currently running in St. Cloud, we are working on a plan to start an After School Gardening and Environmental Club for the Fall, a stepping stone to hopefully build upon in the second year of the grant. We are not where we hoped to be at this point of the year, but we are tasked to maintain a growth mindset despite the obstacles. As gardener Janet Kilburn Phillips says “There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments”. Keep on adapting people!
About the Grantee
The West Essex YMCA, a Branch of the Metro YMCA of the Oranges, is a mission driven organization and trusted community partner in youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. The Y has been serving the needs of the community for over 50 years, providing a wide variety of activities and programs in an environment welcoming all.