Our Lives Run Parallel

I write this with deepest appreciation to those at the Homeless Garden Project who touched my life with their authenticity and presence: Darrie, Angie, Jes, Naomi, Lindsay, Mike, Chris, Angela, Raven, and the many trainees, community members, and others I worked alongside in the office, workshop, retail store, and farm.

I relocated to Santa Cruz in the summer of 2014 and chose to participate in the Project’s volunteer Century Certificate Program in the fall and winter. Participating in this program–comprised of 100 hours of volunteer service and several classes with the training program–offered me the stability I needed to focus my attention and energy on a cause that I knew nothing about, yet had a mental, emotional, and spiritual connection with. I was going through a difficult life transition: the loss of the lifestyle I had cultivated for the past 14 years, the termination of employment, marriage, and home. Although I have financial resources, skills, family, friends, and a new home, the feeling of being uprooted was very ungrounding and the Century Certificate Program was the fertile soil I needed to plant the seeds for my own healing and new beginnings in this community.

Courage is required during these times of unknown, when new life is stirring underground and we must patiently wait for it to break through the surface, like new sprouts seeking light in order to grow. Throughout this transition, I have come to see that our lives run parallel with the life cycle of nature, seasons, and plants, and it has helped me to use this analogy to embrace the changes in my life.

In any transition, having the empathetic help of others, a structure for learning new skills, faith in overcoming obstacles, and a safe haven or place to go really makes a difference for those feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually without a “home”.  This was certainly the case for me. The Homeless Garden Project offered me support, and the kindness of the individuals involved gave me hope.

The combination of sharing my passion for gardening and therapeutic horticulture, with putting my administrative skills to work in the office meant so much for me. In those months of volunteering, I was gaining the tools to come home inside myself and trust that I could make a home in the external world as well.

We share a common humanity in our need for food, shelter, clothing, and contribution—to be seen and understood with compassion in order to learn the necessary tools to experience and express the full power of who we are. The seeds I planted of perseverance, hope, faith, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect during the Century Certificate Program have broken through the surface and the warmth of the spring sunlight along with the water of my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being is providing a solid foundation for the physical blossoming of a new garden.

Although I have completed the program, I am still in transition, in the process of composting the old, redesigning my life with meaning and purpose, exploring new professional options, participating in trainings, embracing new thoughts and emotions, and knowing that all experiences have value. With patience, the fruits of these labors will be harvested in their own time. My deepest gratitude to the Homeless Garden Project for helping me come home to that place within and knowing anything is possible.

-Laura Belson

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2014 Annual Report: Our Social Enterprises

 

Farm Enterprises

In 2014 we harvested  35,000 lbs. of produce.

We planted 37 types of vegetables, which included 125 different varieties; and 70 varieties of flowers.

Our Farm Stand and Wholesale revenue more than doubled over the prior year to nearly $22,000.

 

CSA, Wholesale, Events    12,000 lb

Upick estimate                    12,000 lb

Farm stand                           9,000 lb

Kitchen                                  2,000 lb

Total                                    35,000 lb

 

 

 

Our Value-added Enterprise

Products and photos tell our story in our Downtown Store window

Since our beginning, as a means to expand the skills our trainees learn and practice, bring in revenue to support our programs, and keep our programs running during the rainy season, we’ve “added value” to the “raw agricultural products” we harvest from our farm.

 

“Besides offering a higher return, value-added products can open new markets, create recognition for a farm, expand the market season, and make a positive contribution to the community. However, adding value … is a long-term approach, not a ‘quick fix.’ It requires the willingness and ability to take on risk, as well as adequate capital, management skills, and personal skills—such as the ability to interact with the public—to succeed.” –from “Adding Value to Farm Products: An Overview–ATTRA — National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, managed by the National Center for Appropriate Technology(NCAT)

Our biggest news is that we opened a year-round Downtown Retail Store!

We're building year-round markets with our Downtown Store

This chart depicts the number of transactions during each quarter

(Q1: Jan-Mar, Q2: Apr-Jun, Q3: July-Sept, Q4: Oct-Dec)

Our Accomplishments

  • Our Downtown Store allows us to expand our outreach and education

    Author Wallace J Nichols holds up a blue marble at his "Blue Mind" book reading

    opportunities

  • In 2014, we held over 15 special events (First Fridays, book signings, cooking demo’s, etc.)  A few of our most successful were -
    • June First Friday, “Land & Sea theme”  - We partnered with Save our Shores, Elkhorn Slough Foundation, Surfrider Foundation, O’Neill Sea Odyssey, Santa Cruz Waves & CCOF to show appreciation of our watershed and the ocean ecosystem.
    • August First Friday, “The Art of Food” – We invited several local food artisans to speak and provide samples of their artisanal foods. Participants included Friend in Cheeses Jam co, Drink La Vie, Blossom’s Best, Cookbook Author Elizabeth Borelli
    • Book Reading and Signing, Dr. Wallace J Nichols of “Blue Mind”
  • We launched a Retail Training Program. Program participants work in the store weekly and gain customer service, communication and point of sale skills
  • Based on research and the creativity of our team, we added several new products to our line up
  • New and best selling products -
  • Some of our body products

    Gardener’s Soap (great paired with our Hand salve)

  • Chocolate Rosemary Brownie mix
  • Strawberry Lemon Pancake mix (seasonal)
  • Basil Lemon Salt (seasonal)
  • Solid Lavender Perfume
  • Healing Lip Balms
  • All Natural Pet Salve



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2014 Annual Report: Training Program

Relationships, engagement, accomplishment and positive emotion all play an integral part in well-being. A strength of our training program is our investment in the whole person, so that trainees can sustain their well being after graduation.

This is how trainees describe the effect the Training Program has had on their lives:

“Social workers, volunteers, employees, and other trainees are a great support, offering each other and me hope and guidance.”

“I’m very confident, much more than before, that my resume will get me a good job.”

“I have learned a lot about myself, added dozens of new skills, and learned to be confident in myself.”

Andrew and Chris at lecture

“I see myself as free – that’s a good thing.  I’m making enough money for room and board instead of being homeless – that’s a good thing.”

“I got a place to live that’s stable and safe.”

“I have made some new friends and started to reintegrate myself into society again.”

“I now have stable, reliable income.”

 

Bredette in the greenhouse

“Safety! I’m getting beyond meeting my basic survival needs, getting in touch with resources, and getting medical/dental assistance.”

 

“I am now able to see what a healthy, happy life looks like.”

“It has gotten me more interested in organic, healthy eating.”

“The HGP really makes me want to get more involved with the community.”

“I came out of a dark place, almost giving up.  Now my personal outlook on life is changing for the positive.”

“It is an amazing project that has helped me so much.  I look forward to everyday.”

Stacy's first wreath

“[The Project] has a great support system.  I wish more people knew about it.  I have been spreading the word.”

“Being here at HGP has given me hope for obtaining employment in the future with healthy job skills.”

“Being here has put me on a new career path.”

–Reflections from many trainees about 2014

 

 

 

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2014 Annual Report: Cultivating Community

2014: Our Volunteer Community Grew

This year, we partnered with 2,200 volunteers at the farm, workshop, retail store and office, with a total of nearly 20,000 hours. According to national averages, the estimated service value of our volunteers for 2014 is $405,400! We can’t emphasize enough what an important role this community plays in our daily lives at HGP.

We hosted 120 groups, including:

  • Girl Scout troops,

  • Google, and

  • numerous service learning classes, fraternities/sororities and clubs from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

  • Members from the Zen Center, Quaker Camp, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Bahá’í joined us in preparing meals and getting their hands dirty on the farm.

  • We also hosted and worked alongside students from local high schools, preschools, charter schools and Cabrillo College.

  • We worked alongside our friends from Laurel Street, a day center for adults with developmental disabilities, on a daily basis. On a weekly basis, we worked with the Bay School, a school for autistic students between the ages of three and 21.

 

Interns

Over the course of the year, we worked with 50 interns, from a variety of programs and universities. This segment of our community provides consistent help and presence in all areas of the project. They bring fresh ideas, keep us feeling young and provide much needed assistance to all areas of the project.

 

Workdays

We hosted the following events and workdays at the farm:

  • Martin Luther King Day of Service

  • Earth Day

  • Lavender Harvest Work Days

  • Make a Difference Day

Service Enterprise

We became certified as a Service Enterprise, an organization that fundamentally leverages volunteers and their skills across all levels of the organization to successfully deliver on its social mission.

Research conducted by TCC Group and Deloitte demonstrates that nonprofits operating as Service Enterprises outperform peer organizations on all measures of organizational capacity thereby allowing these nonprofits to more effectively address community needs and operate at almost half the median budget. When an organization leverages volunteers and achieves an effective volunteer management model, not only do they lead and manage their organizations better, but they are also significantly more adaptable, sustainable and better resourced to do their work, and therefore able to sustainably go to scale.

 

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A Particular Kind of Magic

Social work team + staff, May 2015; Rosalie, third from left

Sometimes I feel like the more I learn the less I can put into words. In this case, I worry that my words will not accurately capture all that is good and true about the Homeless Garden Project - an organization that holds a very special place in my heart. So I will only say this: there is a particular type of magic built into lived experience – the moments you share with those involved
that can somehow never be conveyed to others. This type of magic is abundantly present at HGP.
As a social work intern, I am constantly amazed by the immense healing that happens when you have a place to be and be cared for without judgement. In my time here, I have seen so much good come from such a simple idea. As I work to encourage this healing, I sometimes feel drained, frustrated by my inability to rid the world of all its social problems and to make all our trainees’ struggles disappear. Other times I burst with pride and excitement when witnessing people overcome their struggles on their own. In all of these moments, the beautiful, the frustrating, the joyful, I begin to fully understand the magic of this place. You see, HGP is not just a training program. The trainees are not the only ones who’s lives are touched by the connection to the seeds and soil of the farm and the restlessly productive essential oil smell of the workshop. HGP affects the lives of all who pass through it, including myself.

I spent my first summer at HGP, before becoming a social work intern, with my hands in the soil. Now almost two years later, I am looking up at graduate school and leaving Santa Cruz, taking the time to reflect on everything I have learned. I learned all about social work – even deciding to abandon my previous plan to pursue a graduate degree in psychology (my undergraduate area of study) to pursue a masters of social work instead. I learned how to listen, how to be supportive without saying a single word, and how to use the methods of motivational interviewing and positive psychology. For myself, I learned how to rely on my peers for support, and how to ask for help.

But beyond the practical, a funny thing happens. I lose all ability to articulate my experience apart from saying “you had to be there.” Maybe in time I will look back and be better able to explain the magic of this place and its impact on me, but for now all I can say is that the Homeless Garden Project has changed the way I see the world, its living things, and myself. It, and all the people who have passed through it as I have, have forever left an imprint on my heart.
To those considering joining the ranks of the tireless, selflessly passionate people fighting to make HGP all that it can be, I ask, what are you waiting for? I may not be able to perfectly articulate everything this place has to offer, but I can say that it is worth experiencing. I hope you think so too.

–Rosalie Evans

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Ines Marines and Susan Samuels Drake: Inspiring Memories of Cesar Chavez

Ines Marines

Cesar Chavez Day, March 28, 2015. We celebrated with a community work day in partnership with UCSC Alumni, attended by more than 100 people. After lunch, we heard from Ines Marines and Susan Samuels Drake about their experiences working with Cesar Chavez. Below is the text from their talk.

Good afternoon everyone,

My name is Ines Marines. I was born in Eagle Pass, Texas, in 1931. It was during the depression and times were very tough. My father had a ranch and taught my brothers and me the value of hard work and how to work the land. We grew our own crops to feed ourselves and also to sell. I dropped out of school when I was in 5th grade, so I could help on the ranch.

During the 1950’s, while still in Texas I read an article in the newspaper about a man named Cesar Chavez. He left an impression on me because he spoke about the mistreatment and rights for the farmworkers. At that point, I had never heard or read about anyone trying to help the farmworkers. I thought to myself, “This is my man!”

In 1961 I moved with my family to California. Some of my brothers and sisters had moved to the Los Angeles area and found industrial work. I decided to come up north to Watsonville, where my aunt and uncle lived. I really liked this area because of all the agriculture work that was available. I quickly got a job working as a farmworker for various farms. I decided to settle in Watsonville.

Even though I liked working out in the open fields doing farm labor, I did not like the poor working conditions. The hours were very long. We worked from sunrise to dusk. The wages were very low and without any benefits or overtime pay. There was no place where a worker could go to complain about a dispute. Farm owners also hired supervisors that would intimidate, threaten or fire workers if they complained.

In the newspaper I read that Cesar Chavez was coming to the Salinas Valley, to help the farmworkers there. A group of five of us got together and decided to ask Cesar Chavez if he would also be willing to help improve our working conditions. We contacted the United Farm Worker’s Union in Salinas. They set up a meeting for us and we went to
meet with Cesar Chavez. Cesar Chavez heard all our complaints and when we asked him if he would also be willing to come to Watsonville, to help us, he replied that he could not do it for us, BUT that he would teach us how we could help ourselves, if we were willing to learn. We said, “YES!”

Our group of five would meet with volunteers from the UFW on Thursday evenings after work. We were taught about our working rights, how to file complaints and how to peacefully organize and inform other farmworkers about their rights without the fear of being fired. Among some of the volunteers who helped us were Roberto DeLaCruz and Shelly D’Amour. Many of the volunteers were students from various Universities throughout the country.

During this time, the late 1960’s and early 70’s, we held many

Volunteers listen to our speakers on Cesar Chavez Day

boycotts and strikes of local farms and we were able to successfully win many contracts. I was appointed to be a representative for the UFW and taught how to implement insurance contracts and learned the policies and procedures of the contract with West Coast Farms, where I worked.
If a farmworker needed to file a complaint or had questions, I would help them. Cesar Chavez was a very smart man because he taught us how we could help ourselves. He made us believe in ourselves and through education he gave us confidence and the tools we needed to successfully win contracts that improved our working conditions and lives. We now had better wages with benefits, health insurance for our families and ourselves and pension plans.Up to this day, I still collect my retirement benefits with the UFW plan.

Today I continue to be involved with the UFW in Salinas. I attend the annual conventions, various rallies and help with campaigns that benefit the farmworkers. I am a lifetime honorary member of the UFW. I will forever be grateful to Cesar Chavez for everything he did to improve the living standards for the farmworkers.

I feel it is important to continue to stay active and volunteer to help with projects that will teach others to help themselves. Like here at the Homeless Garden Project, people will learn how to grow their own healthy food while bringing the community together.

THANK YOU!
–Ines Marines

Susan Samuels Drake reading from her book, "Fields of Courage"

I met Cesar in 1962, when he was so shy he barely spoke at a weekend meeting of what was then called the California Migrant Ministry. Over the next 20-some years, I saw him evolve into an engaging, powerful speaker who could hold crowds of hundreds captive and motivate them to support the goals he had for an association of farm workers seeking justice in the fields, vineyards and orchards of California.

When you met Cesar, he looked you in the eyes—something in these times I miss—and stuck out his hand or, if you knew him, opened his arms wide for an abrazo, a hug. He remembered not only your name, but your spouse’s name and often your children’s names and something about them. Not only did we work 12- to 14-hour days, but sometimes we had dinners and dances, especially at weddings, together. He loved to jitterbug and would dance with a 70-year-old or a 3-year-old with equal comfort.

Cesar was early-on into growing and eating organic produce. Before it was a fad to oppose pesticide and herbicide applications, he had a book prepared to educate consumers on the threats to our food supply.

He was also ahead of the ecumenical movement. Our worship services incorporated Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and when available Jewish rabbis. He worked with Arab farm workers, African-Americans, Native Americans, Filipino-Americans—I sensed he had a healthy curiosity about people with cultural experiences different from his own. He often took someone with a personal problem into his office to hear their story and find professional for the workers—he didn’t only listen with compassion.

His gift became his downfall. He loved learning about accounting and printing presses, business management styles, you name it—he read constantly at night after he’d worn out the rest of us. But he had to have his finger in so many pies—finally had to pry him away from signing every check, every thank-you letter. He lost his focus on his greatest talent: organizing farm workers.

I see this with elected officials, too. We campaign and elect them, elevate them because of their talents. Then most of us go back to our lives and expect our Board of Supervisors, congress members, our presidents to do all the hard work. At someone’s memorial, we often promise to carry out their goals—and forget to do that shortly afterward.

If Cesar were here today, he would be pulling weeds, asking if you’re taking care of that

Susan and Ines

sore on your arm, chatting with your children. He would be especially pleased that this is an organic garden gift to our community.

Many of you know that the phrase used in Obama’s campaign Si, se puede came from the farm workers’ movement—Cesar gets credit for it, but the United Farm Workers co-founder Dolores Huerta started it, I’m told. May this garden and all who work here thrive. Si se puede—yes, it can be done.

In San Diego, former farm workers movement staff operates service clubs to teach students of all ages how to implement these ten values that Cesar Chavez held.  These traits he learned partly from his mother, who though poor always had food and time for some homeless person passing through their town. He also was a devout Roman Catholic who believed in the basic teachings of Jesus.

Our Ten Values1.   Service to Others

2.   Sacrifice

3.   Helping the Most Needy

4.   Determination

5.   Non-Violence

6.   Accepting of All People

7.   Respect for Life

8.   Celebrating Community

9.   Knowledge

10. Innovation

–Susan Samuels Drake is the author of “Fields of Courage: Remembering Cesar Chavez & the People Whose Labor Feeds Us”

 

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Circle

 

On most Tuesday mornings for the last five years or so, I’ve attended “Circle” meetings at the Homeless Garden Project (HGP). Circle is held at the beginning of the work week and is attended by all of the people participating in the Garden’s job training program–members of the small staff, graduates of the program who come back for an occasional visit, invited guests and a few volunteers. For volunteers like me, attendance at the meeting is a privilege I don’t take lightly. The Homeless Garden Project is a very special place and Circle a very special place within the Project.

I started volunteering with Homeless Garden Project in 1995. I’ve volunteered in many capacities from the Board of Directors to a farmhand wanting to really absorb what the Homeless Garden is all about. I’m still learning and continue to be humbled. Circle is my weekly fix, my check in, an anchor in my increasingly calendar-driven schedule. Sitting in a circle of people every week–a circle that’s ever changing as people come and go but always made up of people changing their lives–has become part of my routine. It puts me in touch with a part of myself that I like, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to participate in whatever small way I can.

On these mornings, we settle into a “sort of” circle, arranging a haphazard array of office chairs, plastic lawn chairs or really anything that can support one’s weight. This crew starts on time and this meeting kicks off at 9AM. It wasn’t always that way, but this crew means business.

And, the business of being an organic farm and being a social service organization in the same skin is no easy business. It requires paying attention. In farming, if you don’t pay attention to what the land is telling you, you’re likely to get into trouble. There’s a lot to know and a lot to learn. If you were looking for a good business to embed in an employment training program, you’d be hard pressed to find a better model than small-scale organic farming. And, the brand of farming and enterprise the HGP does is truly unique.

Circle has been evolving into a “check in place” for the program’s participants for a quarter century and is a great example of how HGP is working to develop and support the holistic development of its participants. In its current iteration, there’s a thought-provoking question offered up by whoever is running the meeting–usually a staff member, but sometimes a trainee. It’s a place to reconnect with others and sometimes with yourself, and it’s a place where it feels safe to share what’s going on in your life. Sometimes the meetings can be inspirational and emotionally moving. They can turn philosophical and introspective. Or, they can be practical and down to earth, especially when held in the open air at the farm. It’s always interesting and it’s always rejuvenating to be at the farm.

I wish I could explain with words what it’s like to actually be on the farm, joining those doing the hard work of growing real food, and sitting together at lunch to eat that same food. I can’t really explain, but learning it for yourself is easy.

Volunteering for the Homeless Garden Projects has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in Santa Cruz. This gem of an organization is set up to make volunteering easy and fun–on the farm, in the store or at one of the Project’s many special events. You owe it to yourself to get involved and join the growing HGP family. Check out their various volunteer opportunities here . In the process, you might learn a bit about what it takes to run an organic farm and also how it is that HGP achieves its mission: “In the soil of our urban farm and garden, people find the tools they need to build a home in the world.”

–Matt Guerrieri

 

 

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Homeless Garden Project Store Grows Up

Our Holiday Store window

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38 Years Old

Andrew Speaking at our August 23 SUSTAIN Farm Dinner

Andrew presented this talk to 75 guests at our SUSTAIN Farm Dinner. My name is Andrew. I came to Santa Cruz when I was 13,  and 14 was my first trip to Juvenile Hall. By 15, I was in rehab and by 16, I was in a group home until I was 18. I had a family that loved me and wanted me to succeed. I left for Colorado at 19, found my dad at 20 after 18 years of separation and came back to Santa Cruz at 22. By 25, it was all about drugs and alcohol. By 30, I had lost everything over and over again.

Homeless, I found sanctuary in the woods for years. Illegally camped.

I met Stacy almost five years ago. We had the same visions and dreams. It was easy to fall in love with her. I admired the love and friendships she had created with her two sons and still do. We were together. Shortly after we became a couple, the house she was renting went into foreclosure. The boys–her sons–ended up homeless for nearly two years. Shortly after “Occupy Santa Cruz,” we found out Stacy was pregnant. It became the motivation we needed to turn our lives around.

That Christmas, my mom brought us home and by New Year’s we were both clean and sober. A healthy baby girl was born August 1, 2012. Meredith Ann Marie Albright.

We live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in the flats. We have Section 8, Food Stamps and a small amount of money through CalWorks. During this time, I had no idea how I was going to find a job, let alone support my family—family that I’ve always dreamed of having. All attempts at employment were unsuccessful.

April 20, 2013, I fought off a robber and was stabbed twice in the process. I was air-lifted to Stanford Hospital. Months of pain, anxiety and depression followed. I slept for months. I needed help and I knew it.  A social worker at CalWorks sent me to see a therapist. His name is Jim Sutherland. While getting to know me, he told me he was a former volunteer of the Homeless Garden Project. “You should go check it out. Ask for Darrie, tell her I sent you.” And I did. I started volunteering and was told about the training program. I filled out an application, turned it in, got an interview and was hired.

That alone meant the world to me.

Andrew at his second job with The Garden Company

 

So that’s how I got to this magical wonderful place. I’ve been very successful here. Through the help of the Project, I was able to get another job at the Garden Company. Being here is helping each other help ourselves. I had an opportunity to heal and grow. I’ve sown thousands of seeds here and left a mark. Most of the food we’re eating tonight came from seeds I sowed. I have the ability now to leave so someone else can do what they need to do here. It was the time I needed to fill in the blanks. I love this place. Thanks for sharing it with me.

Basically what I want everyone to know is that for those of us who are stuck and having trouble navigating our lives, this place has a way of getting us started that really works.

You know how magical Christmas can be to a small child. That’s how I feel about this place—like I’m getting ready to open a bunch of presents.

Andrew Albright is a trainee in the Homeless Garden Project’s transitional jobs and training program. He says, “In the past I was the destroyer of my life. Now I’m a student of my life, love, humanity and healing.”

 

 

 

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My First Month in Homeless Garden Project’s Transitional Job Program

 

The Homeless Garden Project is about growth, learning and starting new life. As a trainee, I’m learning so many valuable tools in gardening, planting and harvesting. Before I started working at the farm, I hadn’t worked in eight years. My self-confidence was low, but my hopes for my future were high.

From day one, Lindsay, our Supervisor, made me feel valuable, something I hadn’t felt in years. Darrie, the Project’s Director, told me that what I had to say was important and inspiring which shifted my confidence from feeling worthless to maybe I could make a difference.

Everyone at the farm is welcoming, loving, giving and overall beautiful people. I’m blessed for each and every day I get to absorb their knowledge and zest for life.

So the farm isn’t just a place where food and flowers grow. It’s a place where new life starts every day in the people that volunteer, work and visit this wonderful place we call the Homeless Garden Project.

–Traci Pierson: “I’m starting my new life in Santa Cruz, CA. My hobbies are reading, hiking, camping, biking–I love anything outdoors. I have a 14-year old daughter who is the joy of my heart and sunshine in my life. I am a child of God and He gives me hope for the future and teaches me His unfailing love which in turn I can give to others.”

 

 

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