Vertical Garden Bears More than Fruit

Jessica Holmes and Tenisha Bolds

Bolds and Holmes created a vertical garden for LearnLinks students and their families

Tenisha Bolds works with kids in the LearnLinks after school tutoring program, at an apartment community owned and operated by Human Solutions in East Portland. One of the things she’s been thinking about is: How to indulge her young students’ love for fresh fruits and vegetables?

It’s a problem many parents would love to have, but for Bolds - a Health and Wellness Specialist - the challenge took a creative turn: Now she and her colleague, Resource Specialist Jessica Holmes, are growing a vertical garden packed with vegetables and herbs, and bringing the produce to the families they work with.

And they’re thinking about how to launch a cooking show on YouTube to help their participants’ families create their own delicious, fresh meals from scratch.

About 138 kids show up – now virtually – at LearnLinks every week to get help with their schoolwork. The idea behind the program is to provide family support for public school students in Human Solutions’ affordable housing communities to thrive in the classroom.

Good nutrition is covered within a unit in the science curriculum. Bolds says when she asked the kids in her k-8th grade program at Lincoln Woods apartments what vegetables they liked, the answer was: kale. And that answer became an inspiration for more science lessons.

“Then we started talking about growing some vegetables and bringing them in,” Holmes says. At first they tried regular gardening at the apartment complex, but space was limited. “So we decided to start vertical growing.”

The technique is ancient -- think Hanging Gardens of Babylon. But in modern times, new growing structures are easy to find online and fun to build; Holmes and Jones started their seeds in hanging structures and then planted the emerging sprouts in an array of planter boxes in Bolds’ backyard.

The “babies,” as Bolds calls the plants, have included a farm’s-worth of crops.

“We’ve got carrots, onions, eggplant, corn and cucumbers. Then we have peppermint, chamomile, chives, oregano, let me see what else? We also have parsley, we have lavender and we have basil. Then there’s also cabbage, kale, rosemary, hot peppers, brussels sprouts, cilantro, bok choy, thyme, and sweet peppers so far. Oh and honeydew, because the kids love honeydew.”

Bolds’ parents also have green thumbs: her father tends a vegetable garden on his patio and her mother raises houseplants. Years ago, her mother shared a secret tip on how to keep the greenery growing:

“My mom says you have to talk to the plants or they won’t come up, so I’m out here all the time, just talking,” Bolds says. “And I play music for them - they like all kinds of music. And I swear it works - because the corn was the smallest and now they are an inch tall!”

Holmes says the idea was inspired by a cooking and nutrition training she and Bolds attended together.

“This program is important to me because when I participated in a health and nutrition class and learned about all of the additives they put in the food, it scared me,” Holmes said. “Also, I love the fact that we can eat food that we’ve grown ourselves.”

“We are all organic,” Bolds says. “We used no chemicals, because the class we got certified in taught us all about what the chemicals do, and it’s also changed our eating habits.”

Bolds says the most important part about the project is bringing healthy produce into families’ homes. While the LearnLinks program is for kids, in practice the teachers connect with their families, too, since families are an essential part of children’s learning.

“It’s natural, it’s coming from the garden, and it’s a shame that more people don’t know how to grow their own food,” Holmes says.

Next, Bolds and Holmes are working to create recipes for their program using food box ingredients mixed with the bounty from their garden. The food boxes are part of the USDA program distributed through the Sunshine Division and through a grant from Windermere.

“We can make the same things that our program participants can make, because they’re going to have the same ingredients,” Bolds says.

“But they don’t have access to a lot of fresh vegetables, so we made sure to grow enough vegetables so they have some, too.”

Bolds credits her Human Solutions Program Manager Tonya Parson for offering support - even successfully pursuing a grant from the Portland Children’s Levy - to help make it possible.

“Since I love gardening and the kids are always asking for fruits and vegetables, me and Tonya came up with the idea,” Bolds says. “Now she told me about vertical growing, and then I took it from there and I started growing in the vertical growers.”

And as the lush little plants are bursting with life in the fence in Bolds’ own yard, she and Holmes are moving ahead with big plans-inspired in part by the any nationalities of their students, whose families hail from Somalia, Kenya, Haiti, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Mexico, Guatemala, Ukraine, and Russia.

To grow their nutrition curriculum further, Bolds says she and Holmes are working on expanding their video skills to launch their own cooking show on YouTube. As part of the LearnLinks Virtual Summer School over the past few months, they and their team members took a crash course in Google Classroom, weaving in YouTube videos where they could but also learning basic video for themselves.

The duo has moved from vegetables to science and video technology – and back to vegetables – in the space of one summer.

“So since me and Tonya originally started talking about it, my thing is that every month we would do foods of a different nationality - so like one month it would be Asian, maybe Turkish, Somalian,” Bolds says.

“So I’ve been looking at different recipes like cabbage wraps - that’s Italian. I’m going to try to make that so that I can teach people how to make them. But I found a whole lot of different recipes from different cultures that we can make, plus I love to cook.”

Holmes agrees.

“I just love cooking with fresh ingredients, and it’s actually pretty fun and exciting to see your progress,” Holmes says. “Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not an easy job - but it’s very rewarding.”

Aside from Holmes and Parson, Bolds’ biggest supporter is her daughter Tai’ Ana Williams, who has helped plant, weed and water the vertical garden.

Williams has her own take on the project:

“It’s about bonding,” she says. “Growing things, you have to bond with your plants, you have to talk to them and stuff. And then when you’re planting them and you’re bonding with them, it makes you feel special because you’re doing it. I feel like it would be better for everyone to plant their own things so that they could feel special and know that they’re doing it not only for themselves, but for others as well.”

At Human Solutions, we’re building a community where all people can share in the security, hopes and advantages of a thriving, supportive community. Projects like this garden are a wonderful example of how we all benefit when we do things that are part of something larger than ourselves.

Tickets: An Evening with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

Memo from the ED: Juneteenth (6/19/2020) will be a paid holiday at Human Solutions this year and other steps to support our staff of color in this moment

from: Andy Miller

To all Human Solutions Staff:

 

I write this Monday afternoon to share a few steps Human Solutions is taking to more deeply support our staff of color, especially our Black staff, at this moment of uprising and anguish as our nation confronts our history and current state of racial injustice.  All of these suggestions came in some form from input from our Anti-Oppression and Diversity Committee members and from other black and brown staff about how we can better support black and brown members of the Human Solution team – thanks to all who took the time to respond to my request to share your thinking.  What follows are a list of changes we are making immediately to better align our organization with anti-racism and to provide staff who may need time and space with the means to take it:

  • Juneteenth:  This Friday, June 19th, we will celebrate and commemorate Juneteenth – a special day in our history that acknowledges and celebrates the legal ending of slavery in America in 1865.  Human Solutions will add this day to our Holiday calendar for 2020  and will close our organization and treat it as a paid holiday pursuant to our Personnel Policies.  As with any other Holiday, staff are free to utilize the day as they wish. I do want to broadly encourage staff to seek more meaning and understanding of this day and to join local Juneteenth events, including this one, which will include local music and speakers livestreamed from a local venue.  We will be seeking board approval to add this holiday to our policies for subsequent years.  Given that Friday is also a timesheet day, we ask that you complete your timesheets by the end of Thursday. Sorry for the short notice on this new Holiday and Happy Juneteenth!
  • We will be adding 3 days – 24 hours (pro-rated for part time staff) – of limited, special bereavement leave for impacted staff to use upon demand to process their grief and emotions, participate in activities that advance the cause of making black lives matter, lend their time to black-led movement organizations or to otherwise create needed space and time right now given the moment we are in.   Human Resources will be sharing updated procedures for requesting and making use of this added time off very shortly.
  • We have asked all managers to check in directly and often with their BIPOC staff and to encourage offers of time and space and to remind folks of the availability of our Employee Assistance Program.
  • Human Solutions will pay bail - up to $5,000 – for any staff arrested while participating in activities related to advancing the cause of Black Lives Matter.   This is intended to support staff’s participation in local or national actions intended to seek racial justice.   HR will also be providing information on how to access this new employee benefit.

We do not believe that the above-outlined steps begin to address all of the pain and inequity experienced by our staff of color.  My hope is that they do signal that we are listening, and that the voices of our BIPOC staff will increasingly shape the ways in which our organization can ensure a more equitable, supportive Human Solutions for all staff.  Soon, we will be announcing some additional ways in which we will be coming together in the next few months to continue our work to advance racial equity.

As always, please feel free to share with me your thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams as we continue to grow Human Solutions to become the truly anti-racist organization we all envision.

In Solidarity,

Andy Miller, Executive Director

Human Solutions

Pronouns: He/Him/His

 

 

 

 

Our Community is Really Stepping Up: Here’s How

A Note from Shawna, Our Volunteer & Donations Coordinator

Hello from Human Solutions!  I sure hope that you and your loved ones are staying healthy. I am writing from my home office, aka volunteer central for Human Solutions J  Those of us who can are still working remotely until it feels safe to return to our offices. Our frontline workers are doing hero’s work in our emergency shelters and other support programs. As the volunteer and donations coordinator for our two emergency shelters

I am writing today for two reasons: 1) to update you on the amazing community support we are seeing in this moment and 2) to share ways for you to plug in if and when you are able. We know not everyone has time right now or can get out. If that’s you, we invite you to help by shopping our Amazon WishLists or making a financial contribution.

We Are So Grateful! Incredible Community Support Happening!

Huge thanks go out from everyone at Human Solutions to all of you who have stepped up to make our programs work and to invest time, energy, and donations of all kinds. You are showing us what it means to build a supportive community where every one of us has an affordable place to call home and the economic autonomy to pursue their dreams. Thank you!

A few awesome things to share:

  • We have been partnering with Blanchet House on the west side to bring hundreds of sack lunches to shelter and affordable housing residents. Here’s a photo of me delivering some to the Gresham Women’s Shelter! We’re grateful to them and all the folks around the region making the lunches. What a community effort!
  • We’re also partnering with the Portland Rescue Mission to prepare hot dinners some nights, which residents love. They also treated both shelters to their mobile food truck last week, rolling in and serving street tacos one night and BBQ the next. Pre COVID they operated the truck as a for-profit business to help fund their programming, but with that business at a standstill they are donating their meals to keep their job training program running.
  • In another important new partnership, we’re working with The Rosewood Initiative and Prosper Portland in a win-win arrangement where government funding is being used to help small, local businesses cook meals for our shelters. East Portland restaurants Chai Thai and Nelly's Taqueria are feeding nearly 150 shelter residents every Sunday and Monday night through June. The Rosewood Initiative has a GoFundMe to keep the program going once the Prosper funds run out.
  • Folks are sewing us masks! Wow, the sewers in our community are very busy and generous, too! Thank you to all the industrious sewers out there who have reached out and helped us make sure that our staff and program participants have the protection they need to stay healthy right now. Aren’t the rainbow of masks in this photo gorgeous? A local woman made them for us! Building community is beautiful J

Wow, right? Our community is really stepping up right now and it feels so great! Let’s keep it going forever, right? I think we can!

How You Can Help Now: We Still Need You!

I touch base with our shelter managers weekly if not more to see what they need from the community. At the moment, topping their list is:

Lilac Meadows Family Shelter (drop off at 7740 SE Powell)

Gresham Women’s Shelter (drop off at 162nd & E Burnside)

  • Hygiene items like shampoo/conditioner, razors, body wash, deodorant, toothpaste
  • Art supplies like colored markers and pencils, art paper for painting, coloring books (adult), other creative supplies (jewelry making, knitting, etc…)
  • New or gently used bath towels
  • Here’s our Amazon Wish List for this shelter.

LearnLinks Kids’ Program (Contact Tonya at tparson@humansolutions.org)

Do you have a license, time and access to a car? We are building a list of volunteer drivers to help us pick up and deliver donated items when needed. Just email or call me and I’ll add you to the list and be happy to answer any questions you have.

We’re also very open to your ideas! Please reach out anytime – some of our best ideas come from you out in the community.  You can reach me three ways:

I look forward to connecting with you soon. It’s really heartening in these times to see our community take care of those impacted hardest by COVID and our inequitable economy and housing markets. Thank you for being part of this community we love and call home.

 

This is what community can look like.

I hope this message finds you well – physically and mentally - in this unprecedented moment. I am writing to share with you some impacts we are feeling from COVID-19 and how we are handling them. We have been working very closely with Multnomah County’s public health and homeless services teams and other local service providers to determine the best path forward to protect and meet the needs of our staff, program participants, housing and shelter residents and our community at large.

At Human Solutions we often say "this is what community looks like" when we see our community come together to support each other. It is that same empathy, strength and sense of one-ness that we are drawing on as we face this global pandemic together.

Update on Our Services

Many in the community depend on Human Solutions to meet their needs, including emergency shelter, housing, rent assistance, after-school learning, and much more. We are working around the clock to keep our essential services available (and identify those we can put on hold), while also adjusting our programming and administration to meet local and state public health requirements to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Top on our minds is how to balance the urgent needs of our neighbors with very low incomes and insecure or no housing with the also urgent need to practice social distancing. As you know, this is a rapidly evolving situation, so our response is likely to evolve, too, over the coming weeks and months.

If you need to reach our staff, please know that any whose jobs allow it will be working remotely, so business may not be "as usual" but it is continuing. Our leadership team is mostly working remotely and participating in virtual meetings.

Our Emergency Shelters

Both our shelters for people experiencing homelessness remain open at this time, though we have stopped taking in new residents for the moment to create space for social distancing among beds and in daily living. Our women’s shelter is a congregate setting, where people share close sleeping quarters, while our family shelter is a former motel, so families have private rooms, requiring less adjustment in this moment. Our goal is the same as yours, I bet: to support our community when it needs us most. And sometimes supporting each other looks like staying six feet apart!

How You Can Help Now

  • Donate funds. Our biggest fundraiser of the year, our annual auction and gala, was planned for May 2, so we have postponed it (stay tuned for a new date soon). To make up for that critical funding loss, we are asking our community to step in now as they are able and make a gift – maybe the one you would have made had you been able to attend. Just click here to help us reach the $25,000 goal that will earn us an equal match. Contact Sherri with ideas to help: sphillips@humansolutions.org or 503.548.0224. We are turning lemons into lemonade.
  • Donate key items. We rely on community donations to ensure shelter residents have what they need to feel at home while staying with us, including food. Delivering hot dinners or sack lunches right now is most welcome. You can also shop this Amazon Wishlist while maintaining social distance; whatever you order will, be delivered to our 24/7 shelter.
  • Got Other Ideas? Great, we’re all ears. This is very much a team effort!
  • Get in touch to help! Contact Shawna, our terrific volunteer & donations coordinator, to get the details and dive in (maybe you are home from work with some unexpected time on your hands?): 503.278.1637 or volunteer@humansolutions.org.

However you can support our work and our community as a whole at this time, we are grateful. Thank you, thank you for being part of the Human Solutions extended family: together, WE are what community looks like.

In solidarity,

 

 

Andy Miller, Executive Director, and the whole team at Human Solutions

Paying it forward, 25 years later…

This fall I was able to pay it forward to Human Solutions - after 25 years! Back then, I was in no position to write $500 checks to support their work with others in need, but I knew I wanted to and now I am. Here’s my story:

As a young mother with two young children, I became homeless after separating from my partner. I had a part-time job, but not enough money to make it all work. Thankfully, that’s when I learned about Human Solutions.

A little help at the right time made all the difference.

When I reached out, Human Solutions' assistance was just what I needed to get back on my feet. Their kind and understanding staff helped me move into transitional housing and pay for childcare, which was essential to being able to earn enough money to support the three of us. After three months in transitional housing, I found a more permanent place that met our needs. With Human Solutions providing rent and childcare assistance for another three critical months, I was able to maintain stability and start earning what I needed to support my little family.

Helping others when I could was always my goal.

During that time, I always thought that when I got back on my feet, I would give back to the organizations that helped me. I knew there were other mothers experiencing the fear of not knowing how to provide for their children. It was my goal to extend to them the same support that was extended to me. I kept telling myself “when I win the lottery I will make my gift.” I haven’t won the lottery (lol), but this year I made my second $500 gift to Human Solutions to support others facing the kind of challenges I did. I know they are out there, and I know that Human Solutions has the skills and experience to work successfully and kindly with those who find themselves, for various reasons, unable to make ends meet.

Can you join me in this important work? Together we can do so much!

I’m writing you now because I want you to know that the services Human Solutions offers can really lift someone up. They helped me during a rough patch, and now I get to cherish the good times. My daughters (in the photo) have grown into wonderful women who have now started their own families - and I get to spend this holiday season holding my grandson.

I invite you to join me in paying it forward by making a gift to Human Solutions as soon as possible – any amount helps.

It’s easy to give – just click here to make an online donation (or pop it in the mail to: 12350 SE Powell Blvd., Portland, OR 97236).

Any amount helps – trust me. The generosity of others made a difference in my life. I know that your gift will make a difference in another family’s life!

Gratefully,

Cara

P.S. From someone who knows firsthand the impact your gift has, thank you for your compassion and generosity. It means the world. https://humansolutions.org/payitforward/