Marye and Horticulture Student
Two Horticulture Students
The Robert E. DeNier Youth Services Center is a privately run juvenile detention center in Durango, Colorado. While many people cringe at the thought of a juvenile detention center, I have a very positive association with this specific program. Before my time at DHM, I was employed at the DeNier center for several years. While it was not always an easy place to work, I gained valuable and life-changing experiences that have redefined my outlook on human interaction and the cathartic nature of outdoor spaces.
The DeNier center has a unique approach to rehabilitating the youth that come through the program. It presents its students with diverse opportunities in the facility and outside in the community. The most life-changing and powerful experience for me was watching the students participate in the now-retired horticulture program.
Run by Marye, local volunteer, Master Gardener and personal friend, the horticulture program was an essential component of the DeNier Center for years. Students, based on positive and pro-social behavior, would apply to and were selectively accepted into the program. Marye and her students would begin in early spring mapping out and planting seeds in the DeNier Center Garden. The program required its students to spend 1-2 hours in the garden, 5 days a week from April to September.
While supervising this time in the garden, I often found myself emotional and mystified by what I saw; a stark contrast between tall, metal chain-link fences, sunflowers, and smiling children. Frequently, I questioned how these kids were able to put so much joy and care into the garden when they had experienced so little of such in their own lives.
While teens will be teens and often had to be redirected from spraying each other with hoses and throwing dirt around, I was mostly impressed by the dedication and focus they showed in the garden. I was even more impressed by the patient, compassionate leader that Marye was in her program. She oversaw occasional outbursts, blowups and authority issues, while still caring tenderly for her students and produce; the fragile and growing things that needed her attention and patience.
I believe Marye’s Horticulture Program helped illustrate important life-lessons about work, community and cooperation for her students. It showed these lost young people how to appropriately interact, socialize and work together. The program taught them to work hard to serve themselves as well as their peers.
Each September when autumn and the harvest arrived, the garden and program produced very palpable advantages for the kids. Tomato and sweet pea vines crept up fences and arches, and gourds were grown and entered in the La Plata County Fair. Strawberries were grown for immediate consumption by program participants, and herbs were plucked daily for use in the DeNier Center kitchen. These kids were able to touch, smell, and taste the product of working toward a goal and reaching it. For once, they had seen something from start-to-finish.
Maybe the key in helping troubled people lies in something as simple as a garden.
You can read more about the DeNier Center Horticulture Program in the Durango Herald, HERE.
Or you can read another article I wrote about the program in the Division of Youth Corrections Newsletter, HERE.