It’s planting season at Riverview Gardens in Appleton and leaders of this 77-acre job-training program with an urban farm, park space and hydroponics greenhouse are looking for volunteers to help plant the seeds of positive work ethics, good social skills and team work for participants of its job training program.
That’s where RSVP comes in.
Kelly Nutty, the director of resource management, said members of the Retired and Senior Volunteer 55+ Program have valuable life experiences and expertise that they can share with young adults and other people working in the ServiceWorks® job-training program that teaches transferable work skills.
“A number of retired men and women engage with us as volunteer leaders on our urban farm and hydroponics greenhouse social enterprises,” she said. “Maybe they don’t have a garden of their own, but they want to get their hands dirty and get involved in different aspects of our vibrant community. They really enjoy working side-by-side with young adults and other participants in ServiceWorks – positive and engaging relationships are created every day. Retired and senior volunteers at Riverview Gardens offer guidance and have helped staff create new programs to improve our mission.”
Individuals working in the job-training program come from diverse backgrounds. Some of them are completing community service or complying with the terms of Treatment Court. Others are living in emergency shelters and trying to get back on their feet. The goal is to help train people in need and boost their confidence so they learn the skills they need to become more sociable and ultimately find permanent employment.
“Our core mission is to provide critical job training for our community members with barriers to stable employment,” she said. “We operate social enterprises because the best way to learn about how to work with others and be a good team member is to work side-by-side with volunteer community members to help instill that work ethic. The social aspect of work is important. Participants get the wisdom and inspiration from experienced, older adults that they sometimes didn’t receive when they were growing up.”
Volunteers work with job trainees in a variety of areas, including the greenhouses, orchards, prairie, community park space and hydroponics. There also is an opportunity to prepare lunch in the kitchen. One of the perks for volunteers is a free lunch every weekday at noon, including fresh veggies from the farm.
“It’s part of creating good social skills for the people we serve, Nutty said. “Riverview Gardens is great place for healthy social activities.”
Volunteers also can work with individuals on special projects, such as woodworking, building bee boxes and hoop houses (passive solar greenhouses), planting seeds, pruning trees, greeting visitors and washing and packing vegetables.
Volunteer Guy Young, who is retired, enjoys the gardens, especially the hydroponics greenhouse, where lettuce, herbs, micro greens and tomatoes are produced.
“There is a certain calm and peacefulness of the sun, warmth and sound of running water even during a busy harvest day,” he said. “This especially holds true during the long winter months. I believe that getting out and making conversation with our co-workers helps to keep social skills tuned up and our minds sharper. Also being able to help with and develop the process of hydroponic gardening gives me great satisfaction. Everyone who works at the gardens has a story to tell and I am proud to be a good listener.”
Riverview Gardens collaborates with Outagamie County Veterans Court in a hydroponic job training program. It is seeking volunteers who are veterans to work one-on-one with other veterans at the 7,500 sq. ft. hydroponic greenhouse to help them transition into civilian life.
“Everything we do is all about changing perceptions, which removes barriers for people in need, Nutty said. “It’s about empowering them to help themselves and then help others. They feel valued. We give the veterans a new mission.”