Getting Back to Life

Kat Speaks at Sustain Farm Dinner in the late afternoon light

Good Evening everyone.  Thank you all for coming tonight.  My name is Katrina Dubinsky.  Everyone calls me Kat.  I am a very fortunate volunteer at Homeless Garden Project and I’m grateful Darrie asked me to speak tonight.  I am especially pleased to speak on something that involves promise, hope, solutions and humanity.

I have much to tell about my experience at Homeless Garden Project.  Throughout my adult life, I thought about volunteer work but never took action.    The volunteering I am doing now is not just about giving back, it’s about getting back…to life.  I’m relearning how to be responsible, take direction, and set goals.  I now see value in all my relationships and every day is a gift.  While I’m a volunteer, I feel like a trainee.  Chris, Darrie, Lindsay, Mike, Jes, thank you for building me up to feel like an integral part of this project. To all of my trainee co-workers, I say thank you for accepting me as of part of your team and giving me of sense of belonging.   When I first arrived to volunteer and for many months after, everyone here thought I was a trainee, until they asked about my story… and I told them.

You see, almost eight years ago, I made choices that changed lives, including the lives ofmy family and my own life, in a very bad way.  When called to answer for those choices, I found myself standing on the threshold of prison sentence.  No one but my creator and I knew how dark this time became and where my thoughts could have led me.  My story wasn’t supposed to end that way.   Social justice and AB109 said I would serve my prison sentence at the Santa Cruz County Jail.

By participating in a recovery and behavior modification program offered thru the jail known as Gemma, I was chosen for a pilot project, which included volunteer work at Homeless Garden.   For change to happen someone had to take the initial leap of faith, and someone did just that.  I’m sure there were many people involved in the start up of this program that I never knew about. I did know two at the jail were instrumental in moving the idea of helping those with long term sentences to reintegrate back into society.  Those two were Lieutenant Plageman and Supervising Correctional Officer Diana Holland.

Together with Darrie and Stacy at Gemma they set up this program and I would be their first participant.  I was paving the way for others to follow.  This is how I came to volunteer at the Homeless Garden Project.

Event volunteers listen to Kat

The Homeless Garden Project’s staff, trainees and other volunteers,  probably didn’t know while we were working together, they were helping me regain many key life skills I had lost sight of so long ago…confidence, self-esteem, hope, integrity, purpose and finding forgiveness for myself. The garden has magic of its own, but it’s really about the people. That’s where the inspiration, solidarity and beauty come from.

Team work happens here. If we have a job that needs to be done, Chris, Mike or Lindsay give the direction and before you know it, a whole bed is planted out.  Together we get the job done.

The first place I worked at the garden was the green house with Andrew.  Look around you, all of this beauty came from tiny little seeds.    Helping with the harvest of food and flowers for the Community Supported Agriculture shares, I saw the results of our work. We are feeding people in many different ways.  I learned about irrigation, clearing and bedding up for planting.  I can recognize and name many of the flowers out here.  Love-in-a-mist and Dahlias are two of my favorites.

All trainees here are connected to social workers.  I too was linked with a social worker.  They show us how to get our needs met, sign up for school, find housing, and receive medical care and many other services.  They help us to help ourselves.  My “check-in” every week with my social workers became an opportunity for me to be vulnerable and let others support me–something I haven’t been able to do in the past.  These social workers became our friends and helped us achieve our goals, by teaching us to advocate for ourselves.  Thank you to all the social workers for the ample amounts of compassion you gave.

Dinner Guests 

Our circle meeting, held weekly, is a place to share about our lives, the good, bad and the extraordinary; without judgment.  Society at times stereotypes others and in doing so, we are judging and diminishing their value. Think for a minute: what springs to mind when you hear the words:  homeless, inmate, law, police and felon?

During circle meetings, I see clarity and confidence rise and draw our group closer together because we value one another.  As I have told everyone in our circle, I receive so much more than I give here.

The Homeless Garden Project offers classes every week on a variety of topics, farming, conflict resolution and job skills, just to name a few.  We went to Shoreline, Goodwill’s Career Center, to prepare our resumes and check out jobs posted on line.  I am going to need a job when my freedom is restored and I’m ready for my first interview with my resume, and my confidence.

I’ve been thinking about what job I will seek.  We are all born with native gifts.  Those gifts, when we give them freely, can serve others as well as ourselves.  I was inspired when Angie asked for me to train in candle dipping with Raven.  Raven, you are a fun and energetic teacher.  The beeswax candles you so painstakingly dip are beautiful.  Angie provided me yet another opportunity–to participate in production of products like Lavender Shortbread, Herb Biscuits and Chocolate Rosemary Brownies which, by the way, Homeless Garden Project sells in their store and at the farm stand.

Baking is my passion.   Enjoying fresh baked sweets makes people happy.  I take pleasure in happiness.    On many occasions, I’ve baked for my housemates at Blaine Street Women’s Facility.  They always tell me, “Miss Kat, everything you make is soooo good you should sell your treats. People will love them!”

Angie, what is her title? Oh yes, Store Manager BUT WAIT! She’s so much MORE.  I have found such inspiration through Angie.  She’s showing me how to put together a plan for a social enterprise, that won’t just be about the product.  With Angie’s guidance in writing a business plan and costing out my recipes, I am doing the footwork necessary to start baking and selling products at Farmers’ Markets.  My mission statement has been written.  Putting my life’s experiences to work for the good of others I have found a higher purpose. Helping people to help themselves by giving them a job–who knows where it will lead us!  Jails to jobs, what a beautiful concept.

I have witnessed the success of many men and women who’ve graduated the year-long program at Homeless Garden Project.  Many graduated, with jobs and housing.

I have abundant amounts of gratitude for being able to do my time at the Blaine Street

Sheriff Jim Hart introduced Kat

Women’s Facility which afforded me the opportunity to work at the Homeless Garden Project. Those dark thoughts I had diminished with each passing day.  I have felt supported by many at the jail and at Homeless Garden Project.  In my personal opinion, this County was blessed the day Jim Hart became Sheriff Jim Hart.  He and all who work under him are not as portrayed in movies.  They are good people who care and constantly seek ways help those of us who have a hard time getting on our feet.  I know this thru firsthand experience and the fact that Sheriff Hart is here tonight.  Thank you, Sheriff Hart for your support of Blaine Street, the volunteer program and the countless other ways you give to this community.   The common ground has already been discovered.  I hope the Sheriff’s Department and Homeless Garden Project will be able to cultivate a relationship that could serve to further promote healthy productive lives and put what grows out here to the ultimate use, serving the needs of our community.

Steven, the love of my life always says, “Together we will get through anything.”  Steven, you have been unwavering in supporting me.  Keep looking to the future, soon you’ll see us BOTH there with our four beautiful grandchildren.   I love you.  Gratefulness and gratitude are abundant in my heart.  I have gained wisdom beyond my years and I will use that wisdom and all I have gained at Homeless Garden Project, to do good works in the world.

Our guests respond to Kat’s talk

To everyone here, it’s important that you know how vital your support is to Homeless Garden Project and how much everyone here values that support, past present and future. The very fact you are here tonight speaks volumes for this community.

I’ll leave you with this African Proverb: If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.

–Kat Dubinsky

Thanks to David Dennis Photos