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Youth try to give back to community

By Rachelle A. Jones Special To The Daily Planet
Monday October 09, 2000

Early Saturday morning, some two dozen teenagers woke up early to host a day of festivities for Berkeley children. 

Gloomy gray clouds and low temperatures couldn’t keep them from celebrating the Annual Berkeley Harvest Fair with a “Jump for Fun” trampoline, face painting, karaoke, pumpkin carving, domino matches and free food. 

“It’s a chance for us to really engage the community,” said Jason Uribe, the garden coordinator for the Berkeley Youth Alternative’s Community Garden Patch. 

The fair, like all the work of BYA gardeners, was a community outreach program. It was also the group’s way of thanking Berkeley for turning a once barren lot on Bonar Street into a thriving fruit and vegetable garden. 

“There was a need for something to do for the youth,” said Uribe of the 25-year-old program. “They feel safe here. It’s not just a job, it’s like a rec center.” 

BYA provides participants with job opportunities while teaching them agricultural skills, assisting them with school assignments, and giving them a safe way to fill their after-school hours.  

Participants work 20 hours a week, Monday through Friday and sometimes on Saturdays. 

As a parent of four, Candie Leonard began volunteering at BYA almost three years ago.  

“It gives kids a place to come and also be educated. There’s always plenty of things to do to keep them off the streets,” Leonard said of the program. “My kids love to come here. It’s not just something where they sit around – they have to interact.” 

When not tending the garden or singing karaoke, the youth often plan programs to show off their creativity outside the garden. They are responsible for the fund-raising and planning of a cabaret play, as well as a Christmas in April program.  

“At first, I was shy – I didn’t like talking to people until I got here,” said Ebony Thomas, 18, as she painted a child’s face Saturday. “Now, I get to work with people. They help you with your homework and everything.” 

Dart Kaufman, 18, is a garden manager’s assistant who began working for BYA four months ago.  

“I was interested in community and urban gardening,” said Kaufman. “It’s very important to have places in the community where people are growing their own food.” 

Kaufman said his involvement with this program, and with a similar one in San Francisco, has led him to choose farming as a career.