ROCK ISLAND — Immigrants and refugees in trouble with the juvenile court system soon may be sentenced to gardening.
What’s mostly still needed are planting volunteers, and someone with a tractor willing to plow up the land, organizers say. Good weather also would help, they say.
Jana Haskins, Rock Island County’s chief juvenile officer, noticed the immigrant/refugee surge after she was recently promoted to management.
There were no such teens in the system about three or four years ago, she said.
But she couldn’t explain why that number recently jumped to 14-20 kids, she said.
Ms. Haskins started looking for a new program to help them.
She started reaching out to community organizations, from which the idea to grow a “Refugee/Immigrant Services for Empowerment, Unity and Progress” — or “R.I.S.E. U.P.” community garden project sprouted.
Plans call for a 10-week program to be held from June 10 to Aug. 19, at five Rock Island plots, according to a concept paper Ms. Haskins shared.
The pilot program will accept 10 young immigrants/refugees, referred by probation officers, she said.
In time, it’s hoped to include at-risk kids in general, according to Dave Geenen, of the Doris and Victor Day Foundation, in Rock Island, one of its key financial supporters.
Youth fulfilling attendance requirements and completing the program will qualify for reduced sentences, Ms. Haskins said. Judges already have pledged their support, she said. Participants also will earn $10 a day and given a daily meal, according to program materials.
“The bulk of the program would be supervised and monitored by staff from Broadway Presbyterian Church, 15th Avenue Christian Church and Juvenile Court Services, all of Rock Island,” materials read.
Representatives from a variety of local organizations will provide “life-skills” classes every Friday, Ms. Haskins said. The program has a list of 27 different community partners.
Class topics will range from money management to healthy living, she said.
About 90 percent of the produce grown will be given to Cafe on Vine, Davenport, which operates a daily meal site in Davenport, Mr. Geenen said.
Remaining produce will be given to other local meal sites, Ms. Haskins said.
A flower garden also will be be planted, to provide flowers to local churches and nursing homes, she said.
The five plots combined are about an acre of land, said garden operations director Brian McMaster, of Broadway Presbyterian.
A lot of it has never never been tilled before, said church colleague Vikki Blair, garden coordinator. “So if anyone has a tractor and tiller available, it would save our budget,” Mr. McMaster said.
Any tractor owners may call the church at 309-786-2631 or email [email protected].
Anyone with questions about the program may email [email protected].
Tax-deductible donations may be sent to 15th Avenue Christian Church, 3600 15th Ave., Rock Island.
After getting the land tilled, the next step will require volunteers willing to help plant it, Mr. McMaster said.
Planting days have been scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturdays, May 14, and May 28, before participants are scheduled to arrive, he said. Volunteer planters are asked to meet in Broadway’s parking lot, at 710 23rd St., Moline, to be assigned to a particular plot.
Green thumbs are not required, Mr. McMaster said.
“We never turn volunteers away,” he said. If a third planting day becomes necessary, volunteers will be needed June 4, too, he said.
How the gardening project has come to be “is a God thing,” Ms. Blair said.
Ms. Haskins agreed.
For example, she once arrived at Broadway Presbyterian Church for a meeting scheduled to be held at 15th Avenue Christian Church, instead. But by arriving at the wrong church, she learned about Broadway’s existing community garden program, and enlisted their help.
Other assistance includes Valley Construction, of Rock Island, agreeing to provide water to each site using 300-gallon, portable water tanks, and Rockridge High School’s FFA Club continued donation of hundreds worth of plant, Mr. Master said.
Ms. Haskins is excited to see the program get going and growing, she said. She hopes it will give participants an increased sense of dignity, and plenty of agricultural, life, and employment skills.
“The whole idea,” she said, “is to show these young people that the community does care for them, and wants to give them the skills to move ahead in life.”