“I regret the times when I neglected those around me, specifically those in need of a small act of kindness or reassurance.” In all of the stories I’ve heard while volunteering for the Homeless Garden Project, this line was one of the most poignant.
I’ve come to learn that taking the time to help others starts with understanding the problems they face, and volunteering at the Project provided a setting for me to develop relationships within the community and learn how to help.
For me, the most impactful part of this experience has been hearing the stories of those experiencing homeless in Santa Cruz and, more specifically, those in the Homeless Garden Project’s job training program. I will never be able to fully understand the relentless stress and anxiety that they face every day, but I believe listening is an important first step.
Many of the stories I’ve heard centered on a constant feeling of neglect and misunderstanding, as society automatically jumps to negative stereotypes about homelessness. Several spoke of their sense of self being torn away from them by predetermined perceptions.
In their everyday lives, these individuals feel invisible, and it is common for passersby to shift their gaze away, afraid or ashamed of the stories they might hear.
I’ve heard that it is easy to fall into the cycle of self-pity. Many confessed that it seemed as if all the options and opportunities they once had collapsed. Thankfully, the Project opens up new opportunities and offers a choice in shaping the future. It benefits and positively impacts both its volunteers and trainees.
When talking about the Project, and especially the farm, many of those in the training program describe a sense of peace provided by this calm and accepting environment. For some, this place has fostered their artistic ability. They are given the opportunity to discover themselves, while simultaneously developing valuable agricultural skills that can be applied in a variety of horticultural and agricultural fields.
I am amazed by how much I learn from the staff, trainees, and other volunteers. There is always something new to work on and someone new to meet.
While volunteering downtown at the gift shop, I’ve also heard stories from the wider community of Santa Cruz. Former trainees and volunteers have stopped to tell me about their positive experiences with the Project and how it helped better their life. Others tell me they are inspired by the talent of local artists and past trainees represented by the store’s many items for sale.
Spending quality time with the Homeless Garden Project has provided me with valuable experience that I will continue to use. Every person I’ve met and every story I’ve heard has developed and broadened my view of our community. This, in turn, has aided in my understanding and perception of homelessness.
The Project also plays a critical role in the greater Santa Cruz community. Those who pass through the farm, store, and workshop are grateful for the support they receive.
Whether you are interested in transitioning out of an unstable housing situation, interning for a quarter, stopping by to buy candles, or want to pick up a shovel at the farm, everyone has the same opportunity to expand their story and experience the positive influences of the Homeless Garden Project.
– Trisha Nash Patel, Homeless Garden Project Intern