As Unique as a Fingerprint

Stacy speaking at Honorary Committee Kick-off Event


I never guessed that when I grew up, I would actually experience homelessness.

I was the picture of success at a young age, having started working at 15 and loving it. I went into banking at 19 and by 25 years old, I was a top-performing Store Manager in a Wells Fargo branch in San Jose. And then, completely shocking everyone, I quit banking and went back to college, at a local J.C. I also started bartending one night a week. But that quickly became 3 nights and then 5. And then, just as quickly, I had given up on school because really, I loved to work. And now, I loved my new job, bartending.

And then, a few years later, I began my downward spiral that would take everything away from me: again and again and again. Utter insanity. Addiction had gotten ahold of me and quite frankly, I was blindsided. Raised by a single mother with a father who was active in his addiction, I knew what that looked like and I wanted no part of it. I had stayed away from drugs and even alcohol, when I was younger for that very reason.

I thought I was smarter. I thought I was stronger. But when you get paid to drink every night with your customers, in fact you’re encouraged to…it becomes a lifestyle and well, a couple years later you realize you haven’t gone a night without drinking for a looong time. And you’re hooked…

And the story only gets darker from here…once booze had me I found I had less and less boundaries for other things. Darker things. Hard drugs. And then jail.

So…that brings us to the present.

Having humbled myself to accept the fact that I needed to start my life completely over,  I now needed the tools to do it. Enter Homeless Garden Project. When you’re new in recovery, starting to put your life together again, healing from years of bad choices and their repercussions, you’re kind of fragile. And even though I know that deep down I’m still that strong, talented, driven girl that I was…right now I still kinda need someone to hold my hand once in a while. And, whether it’s just a refresher course on resume writing and cover letters, or harvesting dahlias and getting orders ready for our CSA members, every day I’m working in situations that help me feel more empowered, more confident.

And I’ve never before in my life felt like a part of something so big, so awesome. This is the first time I’ve ever felt like a part of my community. Working alongside my fellow trainees and the numerous volunteers, I’m constantly reminded of how similar and yet how different we all are.  Because we all share the common goal of trying to better our situations; getting housing and getting permanent jobs. And in this we have found safety here at HGP.

We have found another family, often times better than our own blood families, to accept us and to help us. And that family also includes our leaders and supervisors at HGP.  Every one of them has always treated me with the utmost respect and encouragement. They have supported me unconditionally, and most importantly – by giving us the safe place to be vulnerable and broken – they have allowed us to heal and recover; to sprout and to grow.

They give us hope in so many things, but most importantly, in our fellow man: because it’s crucial for people to realize that there are others out there who DO care, who DO sympathize, TRY to empathize, and who ARE willing to support us all the way thru to the solution.  Everyone who has ended up homeless got there for different reasons that are as unique as a fingerprint. But the thing that is the same for all of them is the solution. The solution to homelessness is PEOPLE. People caring and engaging with one another to find the individual solutions for each person. And I believe that’s what HGP role models. I believe in them because they believe in me. And I will always be grateful.


Stacy shared her experience at the Homeless Garden Project’s Honorary Committee Kick-off Event at Soif Restaurant on January 27, 2019.  As Homeless Garden Project prepares to build our permanent site on Pogonip, City of Santa Cruz parkland, we celebrated the amazing community leaders who have stepped up to support our success. We were so grateful to Stacy for speaking and joining us on the tour of our future site, Pogonip Farm.


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Volunteer Perspectives: Coming to Understand, Can’t Keep Away, Planting Seeds and Friendships

Christopher in the kitchen with Donna, now a graduate with housing and employment

Stories from our Volunteers: 2018 Volunteer Appreciation

Claire Gallegos: A Place of Power and Beauty

The power and the beauty of the farm is hard to understand until you’ve walked on the soil and experienced it yourself. Both seeds and friendships are planted here and it’s an honor to be able to witness and experience them growing alongside each other. On days I feel like the burdens I hold are too much to carry, I come to the farm and it all feels significantly lighter. I hope the same for everyone who moves through the Homeless Garden Project. The community and sense of belonging that can be found at the farm is a gift. The goodness that takes place here seems to work like the ripple effect and flow into the rest of the community. HGP is a special place of healing and I think there is something here to be found for everyone.

Megan Rodriquez: I Couldn’t Stay Away!

While attending UCSC I was searching for an internship, something that was rewarding

Cesar Chavez Day of Service: Volunteers in the Field

and helping others in need. When I met with HGP’s Volunteer Coordinator and learned more about the HGP’s mission and all the good they do for the community and people experiencing homelessness, I couldn’t stay away!

The farm is a refreshing sanctuary where people reach out to others in need, exactly the kind of work I wanted to be part of. What brings me back each week is the feeling I get knowing that I am helping to break a stigma about people experiencing homelessness. The trainees at HGP produce high quality organic produce, anyone who visits the farm and tastes any of the fruit or veggies will definitely will be back for more, while also having stereotypes blown away.

Heather and Meg volunteer at our August 18, "Growing HGP" event

Interning at the farm fits in great with my classes at UCSC. In class, we frequently discuss community approaches to problems faced by society and possible solutions to help. One of the biggest challenges in this area is the rising housing cost driving up the rates of homelessness. The Homeless Garden Project is a great example of taking that extra time to focus on each other and helping those in need. I’ve seen many acts of kindness on the farm between people–while also learning new skills and gaining insight in the world of organic sustainable farming.

The differences made here in people’s lives is astonishing and that trickles over into the products, customers and community. Food brings people together and it’s the HGP’s work and the support of the community, that makes it possible for people to make real changes in their lives that ultimately improve the quality of living for everyone.

In class, I’m learning about the difficult struggle of experiencing homelessness, and I’m

Shay, an event and farm volunteer

also meeting individuals on the farm who are faced with the same hardships. Having these interactions with trainees and staff gives a lot back to me, which I incorporate into my work at the University, but more importantly these interactions enrich my life.

Volunteering and giving back to the community has always been very important in my life and has helped me grow into the person I am today. It’s a great feeling to go home after a hard day’s work at the farm and know that I contributed to an amazing cause. I always tell friends and family they should come out and enjoy the beautiful farm while giving back.

Christopher Wolters: Finding New & Important Ways to Support HGP’s Work

I have been volunteering at the Homeless Garden Project for just over a year now and I’m only beginning to understand the important work HGP does for people in my community.  HGP puts people first.  HGP understands the importance of community connections for people and connected me to volunteer opportunities.  I found a place as a volunteer in the kitchen this year, coming up with a menu for Thursdays, consisting of tasty food from the farm and other food donations.  I think I’ve done alright, gaining more compliments than complaints.

I first heard about the Homeless Garden Project when I was volunteering at the Santa Cruz AIDS project (SCAP) in the early 1990′s. HGP was donating fresh organic produce to clients experiencing food insecurities. I thought it was such a great thing the HGP was doing for people in my community.

In 2002 I left SCAP and began volunteering with Hospice of Santa Cruz.  I quickly learned that the Homeless Garden Project was donating fresh organic flowers to clients who were experiencing end of life issues. Again HGP was doing great things for people in my community.

Sue cooking lunch for our crew

In the fall of 2017, I stopped by the farm to see if HGP might be a good fit for my next volunteer experience.  I met a trainee that day who spoke about the feeling of being an outsider when she didn’t have a home, but at the farm she was an insider, part of a connected community.  Part of a family.  She made me feel like an insider myself, a member of the tribe.

HGP is a Santa Cruz Institution that creates community connections which provide opportunities for so many types of people.  The HGP’s move to Pogonip will serve 3 times more people than it does now and continue to grow the connections it creates in Santa Cruz.  I look forward to new HGP opportunities in the coming year.

Here are a few of the types of people I have witnessed being served and ways they have been served by HGP:

  • People who are homeless or at risk of being homeless
    • Re-entry training through organic farming practices
    • Support from HGP Social Worker
    • Support in finding employment and housing
    • People who are students doing Social Work internships
      • Support from HGP’s LCSW Social Work Intern Supervisor
      • Experience issues and gain sensitivities to people experiencing homelessness and community-related issues
    • People needing a place to fulfill community service hours
      • Safe, non-judgmental place to fulfill service hours for court-assigned service, educational experience, Seniors and Church groups
    • People with Disabilities
    • Sheltered place to contribute to community
    • Safe place to explore, relax, meet others
    • People with HIV and AIDS
    • People with fragile mental health
    • People in recovery
    • People who are dying and their families
    • People who love eating fresh, sustainably grown, local organic food.
    • People who are seeking a place to make meaningful financial contributions.

AND people like me.  Regular retired types who believe in the power of
community to meet the needs of our people wherever they are in their
As I begin my second year with HGP I look forward to being a part of the move to

Kaiser Permanente group volunteering on Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

Pogonip.  In doing so I want to be a part of increasing the number of community connections.  I want to move from the kitchen and find new and important ways to support the work of HGP.  I want to be part of the growing permanence of HGP in the Santa Cruz community.


Christopher has had many years of volunteer experience. In each place he volunteered, it was somehow connected to the Homeless Garden Project, so he decided to go straight to the source. Christopher said he immediately fell in love with the space and the people. Because he experienced homelessness when he was he was a teenager, he wonders what the program could have provided for him when he was young. Christopher explained, “Being of service is really important to me.” His lesson to people who don’t understand the time he invests into HGP is compassion. He voiced, “It’s easy to keep people in the same box, if you don’t take the time to listen to their real stories.”

Arnold Alper: Satisfying to Contribute


I volunteer with HGP because I am impressed by and attracted to its program. It offers the tools to transition out of homelessness in a compassionate and supportive environment. HGP fosters connection among all members of its diverse community.


I am retired and feel that volunteering at the HGP is a good use of my time.

It is satisfying to contribute in my very small way to this outstanding organization.

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Valued, and Valuable

Good evening, everyone, and thank you so much for being here in support of the Homeless Garden Project holiday store. All of us on the Homeless Garden Project crew that have been working diligently over the past several months to create these exciting gifts are very proud of what we have to offer in our store. We hope you enjoy having or gifting the items as much as we enjoyed making them.

My name is Karen Chappell, and I started working for the Homeless Garden Project in July of 2018. I can’t even begin to tell you what a magical and inspirational place the farm has been to me, so I’ll attempt to tell you about some of the wonderful staff and crew there.

The Homeless Garden Staff is a tribute to Darrie’s natural ability to find the right person

Celosia in our drying shed

for the right position. Ansley Roberts, the crew supervisor, put me to work in a “Value Added” position, harvesting beautiful flowers every day and creating lovely bouquets each Tuesday and Friday for our CSA members. It was wonderful!

It led up to more strenuous work, of course, as two months later I was moved to the field crew post and was tasked with preparing beds, planting seedlings, weeding, harvesting mature vegetables and strawberries for our CSA clients every Tuesday and Friday, and basically doing any hard manual labor that was required under the supervision of Anthony Reyes the Farm Manager, and Mike Erickson, the lead Farmer.

Karen speaking at our First Friday Gala Holiday Store Celebration, December 7, 2018

Justin Wright, the volunteer coordinator and former crew member, helped organize the workflow between volunteers and crew so that all tasks got completed on time. All four of these individuals are knowledgeable about organic farming and so willing to share their knowledge with others that I was completely dialed in in no time.

The biggest lesson for me, however, was that I was valued, and valuable as a human being. I had somehow lost that understanding in my journey through homelessness. It had been so long since I had felt connected with the community that I was overwhelmed with relief and gratitude. I still have moments during the day where I stop and give thanks for my good fortune.


I’d like to move away from the label of homeless, for a moment, because it can paint a

Wreathmaking--made using flowers grown on the farm, and sold in our store

predetermined picture in your mind. The people that I work with are so wonderful and diverse, I’d like to give them their own titles which are just as real. On our very creative and artistic crew at the Homeless Garden Project we currently have teachers, artists, aspiring organic farmers, sales professionals, a cook, a hairstylist, a home health aide, a mechanic, a dancer, a restaurateur and customer service professionals. Oh and a former horse trainer, me! I am so proud and happy to be associated with these individuals and now consider them family.

I feel so much stronger now than I have before, and have future plans for myself that I know I can make happen now that I have such a strong support system. I have obtained a second job already and am working sometimes 14 hour days a few days a week, but I am determined to be indoors as soon as humanly possible.

Karen receives a standing ovation

I plan to continue working with the Homeless Garden Project as an alumni volunteer, to support anyone that needs help getting back on their feet. I also hope to meet someone special in the upcoming future to share my life with, as I’ve been a single mom for too many years now and my beautiful daughter Katie is fully grown. I see a bright future ahead of me, with lots of family and friends in it, especially my family from the Homeless Garden Project. Thank you for your time and attention, and I hope you enjoy your evening!

HGP Executive Director introduced Karen at the Gala: Karen Chappell is a trainee who’s been with us almost 6 months in our one-year training and transitional employment program. Karen always has something inspiring and wise to say at our weekly circle meeting, so I asked her to speak tonight about her time in our program.  Before she lost her housing in 2012, Karen had a full life with a career and family.  When Karen experienced mental health and substance abuse challenges, she lost a lot. Karen’s strength, determination and presence inspires me, and I am sure these qualities will bring her much success.






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Assessing HGP’s Long Term Impact

Over the past 12 years, staff and faculty at the UCSC Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise, and Participatory Governance have worked with HGP to document trainee growth and the transformative power of the farm. In addition to asking trainees to complete questionnaires at the beginning and end of their participation in the program, we have also been working to assess HGP’s long-term impact and better understand alumni needs. We have now completed 19 post-program interviews. We asked alumni to reflect on their experiences at HGP, identify aspects of the program that remain useful in their lives, and discuss current needs and goals. We share some of the central themes that emerged during our interviews.

  • Enhanced Self-Esteem. When asked to reflect on their experiences, manyBeds in A Zone, just before planting, Photo: Briggs alumni identified enhanced self-esteem as a key program outcome. Describing their time at the farm, one alumni explained, Everyone starts to feel their self-esteem bolstered. You learn your voice is as important as anyone else’s voice. On the street you feel invisible so that is a big thing.”
  • Stronger Interpersonal and Professional Skills. Respondents also credited HGP with strengthening their interpersonal and professional skills. Alumni described learning how to cooperate and work with diverse team members. As one graduate explained, “I learned the importance of being involved and accepting everyone for what they can contribute to a team.” Communication and leadership skills were also noted, “At HGP you help make people better, not get frustrated by their mistakes.” Additionally, learning to work with management in a job setting was cited as an important skill.
  • Community Support and Accountability. Many interviewees praised HGP’s strong culture of community support and accountability. When asked to share a favorite memory, one graduate observed, “I just felt very secure because all my people were there and I was filled with gratitude because I had community.”  Another interviewee noted, “HGP has been my number one support system since moving to Santa Cruz, going there brings me peacethey always support you.” This support was instrumental to personal growth, with the program described as “a beautiful and safe space for me to transition, a gentle and firm space for me to get back into becoming the person I am supposed to be and getting back into the work world.”

Moving from Research to Action: The Creation of the Alumni Circle Program

It was clear from our interviews that alumni benefited greatly from their work with HGP and desired ongoing connection and community. Some interviewees described having difficulty setting goals without group accountability, noting that their current workplace did not foster a strong sense of community. Importantly, HGP was described as source of interpersonal support as well as a site for building social capital and gaining access to resources and programs. As one graduate shared “I got the first roof over my head through connections I had at HGP. Getting a job or housing is more difficult now because I don’t have the venue to make the social connections anymore.”

To meet the need for ongoing connection, the Alumni Circle Program was established in January 2018. Monthly Alumni Circle meetings build on the HGP’s powerful tradition of “circle group” during which program participants and staff “check-in” and discuss a question or topic about their lives and goals. The Alumni Circle is based on the foundational affirmation, “We are an open, accepting community of alumni to provide support, inspiration, friendship, and connection, wherever you are on your journey.” Justin Wright, Volunteer and Intern Program Manager and program alumnus, facilitates the meetings. The Alumni Circle is a source of support and strength for participants who describe the group as “family.”

As the Alumni Circle approaches its one-year anniversary, we are delighted to see how findings from our long-term follow-up with HGP graduates has been used to develop and inform this new program. We look forward to continuing to learn about HGP’s short and long term impact.

Emily Hentschke, Heather Bullock, and Shirley Truong, UCSC Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise, and Participatory Governance



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Watching My Life Bloom


My name is Jessica and this is my truth.

I always knew that my chronic homelessness had a thin line between being caused by chance and by circumstance. What started by circumstance created a pattern in my life that consisted of bad choices and hard decisions. A lot of it can also depend on your stance of whether or not the disease of addiction is a choice. But that’s for another time.

My life on the streets began at age thirteen. That doesn’t mean that’s where the trauma started.

I lived with my mother in Aptos and Santa Cruz my whole life, except for six months that I lived in Amsterdam with her for her work. My mom was a six-figure making, beautiful, sophisticated woman with Masters degrees in Physics and Mathematics. She was born and raised in Holland until coming here at age seventeen.

Hawk on the farm

One day, I came home after a weekend at a friend’s house to a red eviction sign on our beautiful home. All the furniture was gone and so was my mom. A year before this happened, at twelve years old, I had survived being kidnapped off the street by a group of men for five days, and I believe the trauma for me and my mom’s feeling of powerlessness led to her finding an unstable partner that introduced her to drugs–for the first time in her life–to cope. And now she was gone.

I could say I waited for her but deep down I knew she wasn’t coming back for me. And thus the homelessness began. Sleeping at friends’ houses, at parks, behind my school, all the while forging signatures so I could continue school. And I did. From ages thirteen to seventeen, I lived on the streets and attended class. I had also found alcohol and soon found heroin. At seventeen, the cops found me and found my dad, but it was too late.

From all of the pain, I found something to take it away. I also found a camaraderie from

Dahlias on the farm

other young people that were homeless. For the next ten years, my life was drugs and jail. I stuffed all the trauma from being kidnapped, abandoned, abused…into a dark, secret place inside my mind and locked it away.

Six and a half years ago, I met my partner and my best friend. For the first time since I found drugs, I loved someone more than I loved heroin. He loved me just enough before I could love myself. A year and a half ago, we took that chance to get clean and see what life was really meant to be like.

After finding my path into recovery, I saw a life I had never believed was for me, begin to form right before my eyes. All of a sudden, my potential started to appear, and with that came my dreams I had lost along the way. Arriving at HGP, I had a little flame of hope inside me. After being here, I started to form plans for my life.

I was given the task of growing Dahlias, having no idea what it was going to do for me. I spent hours and days separating tubers, looking for eyes, building beds, planting the tubers in a rainstorm. I was dedicated to these flowers and I actually had no idea what they looked like. I was in for a surprise.

Out of all my hard work and patience bloomed the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen. I was proud of my work. I was grateful and overwhelmed with humility and strength. I did this. This was the first time in my life I had ever seen the fruits of my labor. And using it to contribute to my community as well. I see now what I can accomplish.

I believe in watching my life bloom, knowing I’m not always going to see the end result right away. Everything in life takes time. It takes heart and dedication. I am right now in the pre-employment process to begin working at the Camp recovery center in Scotts Valley, and aiming to start Cabrillo College next semester to take the two-year certification to become a treatment counselor.

I can use all my experience to help others still struggling. I can be a light in another’s dark tunnel. HGP is my light. They gave me hope that I can live the life I thought I would never have. Gaining the skills of employment and the strength I needed to do what I always wanted to, but thought I didn’t deserve. Thank you Darrie, Mike Erickson, Ansley, Anthony and everyone else working for HGP and the crew, for helping me find my way.

Dahlias at the Supper

And thanks to all of you that are here tonight in support of this amazing project. And thank you God for giving me a second chance. I’m not going to waste it!

Jessica Anthenien started at Homeless Garden Project in late January of this year. She’s a natural leader, wise and eloquent, capable and above all, compassionate. Jessica shared this talk with nearly 200 people at our September 15, 2018 Fall Sustain Farm Supper. You can see more photos of the supper here. Click this link for a video of Jessica presenting this talk, with an introduction by HGP’s Executive Director.





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This Magical Garden Has Transformed Me

Good morning everyone and thank you for coming out and showing your support to the Homeless Garden Project.  I showed up here several months ago as a volunteer at the suggestion of my doctor. You see, I have been diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure which has taken a back seat to my Aspergillus Fungus in my lungs. I’m told to go out and get more vitamin D and to take long walks and drink lots of water.

Well, I have never been the “long walks with the water jug in hand” type of guy. I have always been more the “short steps to the couch with a jug of beer and just take a vitamin D from the bottle next to the remote” type of guy.

After volunteering here for a week, I had already made the decision that I would be returning again next week. I was impressed–this place had made me feel something. The only things I felt prior to this was defeat and despair. I didn’t know it at the time, but there were about to be some serious life changes for me going on in and around this garden. That weekend, I made some inquiries about the garden. It was very popular and had a reputation for actually making a difference in the lives of those who chose to be part of it.

That next Tuesday, we sat in the circle to do check-in. After listening to the others speak from the heart about their affirmations and challenges, I felt like I was in a safe environment and felt free to express some issues I was holding in for lack of a worthy listener. So I voiced my issues and explained my situation to the group. It wasn’t long into the day, that I had several individuals from the group approach me with genuine concerns about some of the things I had shared. It felt good to have someone to talk to.

It felt even better to know that in no way was my situation unique or bizarre. These people had been through it. This group was definitely in the know. I decided to apply to the training and transitional employment program, and was accepted.

Jump several weeks ahead, I now have friends who actually wanna be friends based on personality and content of character and not on your assets or property owned. Because of that, the conversations I was engaging in were far more interesting.

I began to feel like there could be hope for me yet. I attribute this partly to the fact that the people here genuinely want change in their life and recognize that the Garden offers multiple solutions to assist someone attempting to better themselves and their current standing. Taking cues from those here ahead of me, I began to really open up because they weren’t just good listeners; I quickly discovered they also had solutions to offer in response to my concerns. Before long I realized something had changed or shifted. I was feeling whole again. I actually started writing poems again and producing new songs, on my computer, something I have not had any interest in for months.

Then one night while on the phone with my grandma in Chicago, she revealed something to me that I had totally overlooked. She pointed out that I had mentioned that I was eating healthier because at the Garden, every day, they whip the fresh vegies into lunch. So, I learned how to cook some of the food in a much simpler and healthy way. I learned about plating my food for portion control. She asked what my plans were for the weekend were and I informed her that I was going to go see a movie and grab pizza afterwards with a few friends from the Garden. She says, “So you’re eating healthier and going out with new friends.”  You see the point she was trying to make was that it seemed to her that I had not only found gainful employment but life lessons, and even ways to cook fresh picked vegetables.

After the call, she had me thinking, “Wow, I have found a place where I can go, where the atmosphere is always interesting, the people there have beautiful souls, there is a wealth of useful information, as well as training classes to help in transition to employment and housing.

What stood out to me the most through everything else was the fact that this magical Garden had transformed me from a sad, old, sick man wallowing in sorrow and self-pity—back to the vibrant guy full of ideas, jokes, and solutions. I was no longer depressed. My doctor even commented on lowering the milligrams of my psych meds.

I found that I couldn’t wait to get to work every day, and dreaded going home alone in the evening. I’m a work in progress but that too is getting better. Not long ago, literally just days ago, I would have scoffed and waved off anyone who would have approached me to tell me that this is what the Homeless Garden Project was capable of.

So, when we all heard that we’re now growing and moving to the Pogonip, we all got very excited. It will be a great opportunity for our crew to pass on their goodwill to future crews as the Project recreates the magic of our farm at Pogonip.  This magic was created years ago and continues to this day– not just existing, but as this move represents–thriving and seeking to serve this community on a larger scale.

It’s an even greater opportunity for the public, the community, to get involved and see just how things work. For me on this day and most other days, lately I will thank GOD I am once again inspired and self-motivated, even eager, to engage in this organization and the well-being of those in my community.

If I had my way, it would be a requirement that to become a citizen of Santa Cruz County you must first complete the 1-year program at the HOMELESS GARDEN PROJECT… My name is Mykee and thank you letting me speak.

–Mykee Hayes grew up in the inner city of Chicago and came to California in 1985 at the persistent request of him mom, who feared for his safety. Mykee turned several hobbies into respectable businesses including an art gallery, Waves of Glass in Laguna Beach; Mirror, Mirror, a boat and car detailing business in Newport Beach; and This Side Up, a newspaper in Sacramento. As a mortgage consultant, Mykee was recognized as “Loan Officer of the Month” for assisting the most African American families to become first time homebuyers.

After a few unfortunate mishaps, we’re glad that Mykee found his way to HGP. Mykee spoke at “Growing HGP,” a community event to present our programs, and plans for our new permanent site, where we’ll begin work soon. When he spoke, Mykee had just achieved his two-month milestone in our program


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A Passion to Stay with Me the Rest of My Life

Rick Buchwalter speaks at Sustain Farm Supper. July 14, 2018


First off I want to thank Darrie for having me up here, and I want to thank all of you for your time. I am up here tonight to describe my life before and after I found the garden. My name is Ricky, I am a crew member and here is my story.

Knowing pain for so long, you become used to pain; you soak in it, it overwhelms you. It lives in you until you are pain itself. What I knew before the garden was stress, despair and suffering, so as result I was in a dark place for a long time. After my best friend was murdered back home I got a backpack, a little bit of money, and flew out from South Florida to California to find peace. Instead I found myself  homeless in Santa Cruz. This may sound more like a tragedy but me being homeless in Santa Cruz is what led me to find the Homeless Garden Project, HGP. I also like to call it the mecca of Santa Cruz, MY holy place. This beautiful place opens up new doors and new discovery to all that are involved.

Polly Cannella Photography

Every time I look up at the farm, I see all types of different people, from the volunteers, team members, our bosses, the You-Pickers, CSA members…with smiles on their faces. I feel complete, a part of something important. From working in the greenhouse, sowing the seeds, to working in the field crew transplanting and harvesting the plants…I cherish every moment the same. Transplanting bundled onions on the first day of work here at the mecca, as I call it, I found it so meditative and so peaceful. I could not believe I was going to get paid for this. It felt just so natural. Honestly, I found a passion for gardening, which is going to stay with me for the rest of my life. I am applying for the CASFS program at UCSC in pursuit of a new career in agriculture. Gardening every day is a blessing and I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to be a part of it on the farm.

Being surrounded by violence, drugs, and mayhem for so long can cause you to forget how

Ricky working on the farm Nicole Cavino photo

to love – how to love others, how to love life, and most importantly, how to love yourself. Homeless Garden Project has taught me to love again. I know I love myself because I love this place and everybody that is a part of it. I started as a trainee/crew member and now I have a family here at the Garden. We will all continue to grow together as the plants and life around us grow. I was a seed planted when I started to work here and now I can branch off to success.

Thank you all.

Life is good.

God is good.

–Rick Buchalter has experience as a musician and a performer.He’s extremely resilient and a natural leader. Acknowledging this strength he said–”And now I can use that capacity for good.” He spoke at the July 14, 2018 Sustain Farm Supper following Congressman Jimmy Panetta, our keynote speaker.

Thank you to Polly Cannella Photography


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I Am Doing Something Special with My Life Now

Hi everyone, my name is Dianna Hope and I’m proud to be a trainee at the Homeless Garden Project! The Homeless Garden Project not only helps the homeless, but we help many community members through organizations like Hospice, and the Boys and Girls Club, not to mention the Transition Age Youth program. HGP helps our community with organic foods and flowers, and works strictly with our local community.

At HGP we celebrate holidays like Cesar Chavez Day and Martin Luther King Days, with a genuine heart in bringing the community together with volunteer work days. The diversity of people in this project have warm, understanding and compassionate hearts, and go out of their way to helps us with our many different barriers and needs. They educate us by helping us to create resumes, cover letters and assisting us with mock interviews.

I’ve expanded my work history because of the Project. I’ve learned many different

Dianna speaking at our Pogonip Farm Update, April 2018

techniques on how to plant a variety of plants and flowers, created value-added products to sell at the store, such as bath salts and flower wreaths, and obtained cashiering experience at the store, here. I’ve learned how to interact with the public by doing demos and telling people about the benefits of project. I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to package many different items which we sell at the store, and also how to arrange shelves in a professional manner.


Dianna and volunteers serve appetizers on First Friday at our Store

We at the farm are like one big happy family in the sense we all help and look out for one another, a unity of trust is a big factor within the community. This Project means the world to me in many ways, it saved me from being homeless. I was very close to being homeless. HGP gave me a job when everyone else had denied me access to enter into their work site because of my past actions. Which in turn helped better my self-esteem and gave me a sense of direction in feeling like a part of society again. No more isolation for me, I am happier than I have ever been and I feel like I am doing something special with my life now. I also have more self-confidence.

I couldn’t be more proud to say that I am a part of the Project, they have restored my faith in people, transformed my life and my beliefs about the world helping one another within the community. I have built strong bonds with many here, as well as life skills to help me in my future. I feel blessed to be a part of this growing sanctuary that helps the people in this community.

Dianna Hope spoke at our Pogonip Farm Update in April, 2018. She started with HGP in November 2017. Dianna lived in Santa Cruz from age 3 for more than 30 years. She spent time in Sonora and Sacramento before returning to Santa Cruz, which she calls her home town. Dianna’s been in recovery for nearly 3 years. She’s been an electronics technician, a firefighter, a cashier, and has done housekeeping and landscaping.

Dianna has a second part-time job and is working to set job goals for when she graduates, including the fulfilling work of helping her community.


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Smart Path Project–Robyn McKeen’s Inspiring Presentation at Smart Solutions Community Recognition Reception

At the Smart Solutions to Homelessness Community Recognition Reception on November 12, 2017, Robyn McKeen presented about “Coordinated Entry,” a strategic priority of our community’s All In Strategic Plan to Prevent, Reduce and Eventually End Homelessness. Homeless Garden Project staff and board members present were inspired and moved by Robyn’s presentation and so we share it with you here.

Smart Path Project Spotlight

Smart Path to Housing and Health is the name of our local coordinated entry system. Coordinated entry is a systems change that streamlines the assessment, eligibility review, referral, and program placement process for programs providing housing services to people experiencing homelessness in our community. Smart Path is a project of our local Continuum of Care, the Homeless Action Partnership- HAP, and the Homeless Services Center is the lead agency for implementation of Phase 1 which will be launching in early 2018.

Many of you have joined us in designing a coordinated entry system that will improve the experience of accessing existing services by simplifying the process, ensuring people are treated with dignity at each step. Other goals of Smart Path include using our community’s limited homeless housing resources as effectively as we can, assisting people to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place, generating accurate information to be used to improve services and secure new resources, and linking people as quickly as possible to essential services and resources. The process flow for Smart Path includes:

  • Outreach and Engagement- Smart Path access points will be located throughout the county.
  • Screening- Not everyone is going to be in a situation where it is appropriate for them to participate in Smart Path that day. Warm handoffs will be made to domestic violence and other crisis service providers as needed.
  • Diversion- Diversion means helping someone to connect with other forms of housing support they may have- family, friends, deposit assistance.
  • Resource Linkage- We are all acutely aware of the significant gap between the available housing resources and the need in our community. One thing we can ensure immediately is that everyone who participates in Smart Path is connected with as many non-housing essential resources as possible like meals, health care, showers, and government benefits.
  • Assessment- One common assessment will be used to collect the eligibility and other information necessary to send solid referrals to each of the housing programs countywide that will participate in Smart Path. We will be using a user-friendly, mobile compatible new Homeless Management Information System as the Smart Path database. The assessment consists of essential eligibility information like household structure and veteran status. In addition, the VI-SPDAT- the Vulnerability Index-Service Prioritization Decision Assistance Tool- will be used to help prioritize housing referrals based on housing program type and participants’ vulnerability based on health and social risks.
  • Program Housing Match- When a program has an opening, a referral will be made based on the program’s eligibility criteria and the participant’s vulnerability as suggested by the VI-SPDAT tool.
  • Housing and Retention- Once a participant is accepted into a program, our phenomenal housing service providers pick up where Smart Path leaves off, providing the care management, housing navigation, and housing retention support that truly enables us to reduce and end homelessness.

I hope you will reach out to me so we can talk about how Smart Path and your projects can support each other.  Smart Path is a significant systems change. We are shifting from our agencies working in siloes of excellence to working in alignment towards our shared goals. We are shifting from programs enrolling people based on first-come, first-served and sheer luck to intentionally prioritizing those in the most need. This is not easy stuff!

Those of us working with people experiencing homelessness are often the very last option people have for support. This is especially true for the most vulnerable people. If we are the very last safety net before living and dying their last days on the streets, then perhaps it is time to consider that we prioritize those that are falling through right now. It will be hard. Really hard, to bring in the hardest-to-house individuals and support them to locate and retain housing in this community. Really hard to turn aside from a person, equally deserving, who is able to navigate these systems with just a little more ease, a little more capacity. But if we do not use our expertise and commitment to prioritize our resources for the most vulnerable, who will?

I tell you honestly that it is entirely unfair that we be faced with these decisions. It is unfair, hard, and never enough. Coordinated Entry and Housing First will not fix that. But these tools are showing up as some of the best ways in our existing societal structure to keep fewer people from spending their last days on the streets.

And it is not enough. It will never be enough alone. We must grab hands and link our homeless response system to all the other systems that have a role to play in preventing our neighbors and our children from becoming poor, sick, abused and homeless in the first place: justice, employment, child care, health care, trauma healing services, substance use disorder prevention and treatment, mental health support, and on and on.

Homelessness is not simply the result of a housing crisis, although that is a huge piece. I believe it is a community, societal problem that has developed over time as a result of policies and social norms that build inequity of resources, opportunities, and perceived human value. Today, as I look around this room, I am grateful that we are the community. Hopeful because we are the society. And we are shaping our policies and values right now. What can we create together? Thank you so much for all the time and love you give to our community.

Robyn McKeen works at the Homeless Services Center as the Smart Path Project Manager, leading the development of the countywide Santa Cruz County coordinated entry system. Prior, she worked as a community organizer at the United Way of Santa Cruz County, resource coordinator at EAH Housing in Santa Clara County, and children’s program manager at YWCA Pathways for Women in Snohomish County, WA. She received her BA in Anthropology from UC Santa Cruz.

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Voices from the Field: Our Volunteers Share Their Stories

Briggs, Lienallie and Becca at the farm

“Service is not a hierarchy but a reciprocity in which the distinctions between teacher and pupil, giver and receiver, helper and helped constantly dissolve.” –Scott London

In honor of Make a Difference Week, we took time to acknowledge our extraordinary community of volunteers, and to reflect on how volunteering with HGP has made a difference in people’s lives.

Becca McKnight is an invaluable member of the HGP community, volunteering at the farm on Fridays, serving food at Sustain Suppers, and connecting with trainees, volunteers, and staff with humility, care and generosity.

We asked Becca to reflect on what her volunteer involvement means to her:
“The Homeless Garden Project is an incredible organization which provides a safe space for people to be held, heard, and given the chance that they deserve. I am enlightened weekly by working on the farm with the crew, where we get to grow and share beautiful food and establish profound connections with both the land and one another.

HGP envisions a thriving and inclusive community, and that vision is surely enacted upon. It’s a place where I can be myself, dig in the most magical dirt, and reflect upon systemic injustices while doing what I can to make a difference.

Extending my hand to such a caring and hopeful community has enriched my life in a multitude of ways, but mostly by making me a better person.

I will never be able to give back even a portion of what this organization has given to me. The Project provides exceptional support, care, and love to those who might need it, and I’m so lucky be one of the many beneficiaries.” – Becca McKnight

Mike Arenson (far left) in the kitchen

Mike Arenson has volunteered for over 3 years, preparing lunch at the farm twice a week for trainees, volunteers and staff. Mike brings to HGP an inspiring commitment, a passion for food and cooking, and a deep care for community.

“When I retired from being Solar Mike, one of my main goals was to be involved in helping people who are homeless in Santa Cruz.


I love to cook and I called the Homeless Garden to see if I could help in their kitchen. They asked if I could start the next day! That was more than three years ago. Since then, I have been volunteering twice a week as a cook, making lunch for the trainees, staff and volunteers at the farm.

I see first-hand how the Homeless Garden Project transforms people’s lives, from the exhausting struggle they face living on the street to being in a place filled with love, purpose, and hope. I am so impressed with the trainees who participate in the program — their communication, the responsibilities they take on, their support for one another and the mission of the project.

I am part of the community, and I receive so much appreciation from many people involved. I love being part of a solution to help people in need.” – Mike Arenson

Norbert Lazar volunteers at the farm one day each week throughout the entire year. He

Norbert in the field

brings his years of experience with gardening to the farm, along with an openness to connect with everyone he meets and works alongside, and a commitment to completing the task at hand with diligence and joy.

“When I first volunteered at HGP I was hoping to get my hands dirty, get some exercise and possibly share my gardening experience with folks.

I didn’t realize how much I would learn, about gardening and about people. HGP is a special place with special energy. The shared food, stories and camaraderie among such a diverse group is truly inspiring.” – Norbert Lazar

Suzanne at the Human Race

Suzanne Heinze has volunteered for over 4 years, working on administrative and financial projects in the office as well as helping out at events on the farm. Suzanne brings dependability, thoroughness, and commitment to our mission.

“Without Suzanne, so much in our office wouldn’t get done. She helps me immensely and provides great support to both our Executive Director, Darrie Ganzhorn, and our Finance Manager, Mary Reyes. She is an essential member of HGP and I am grateful to have her support” – Kim Parisi, HGP Administrative Assistant


The meaningful participation of community members through our volunteer program strengthens the sense of community and belonging for both housed and unhoused people who are impacted by our work.

Our volunteer program creates opportunities every day for people to break down social barriers and address stigmas around homelessness. The relationships of care and trust that evolve over time help to address the experience of isolation and disconnection that is often at the core of an individual’s experience of homelessness.

Cultivating Community, our community education and volunteer program, generates connection and belonging for our trainees and community members, which stands in stark contrast to  recent research from on the harmful effects of isolation and loneliness: “We know that homelessness is a devastating experience and how hard it is to overcome. Yet what this new research shows is also just how much of an isolating and lonely experience it is.

Homelessness means not only losing a roof over your head but also losing regular contact with those that matter to you. Being homeless already means being at heightened risk of mental and physical health problems but we increasingly know just how bad being lonely is for a person’s well-being….

When someone has a greater sense of belonging, fostered by feeling needed, valued, and significant, they achieve better social and psychological functioning. ” (Read the research here.)

While homelessness has multiple causes, we believe that it cannot be addressed without building a strong community of belonging, and so we deeply value our community of volunteers, who add richness and diversity to our daily experience and expand our network of connections.

To learn more about Cultivating Community, HGP’s Community Education and Volunteer Program, please contact



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