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Volunteers help Arkansans through community gardening

Will, Kendall, and Rachel are representative of what was a pleasant summer surprise: Young people fighting off COVID with community service.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — This road is surrounded by gardens, and in the middle of the road, you’ll never guess what we found.

...We found a turtle.

Which is an exciting moment at Dunbar Gardens where Will Becker serves. He has signed on for a term of service with Americorps.

"I'm actually from Maryland, and I just graduated from St. Mary's College in Maryland this past year," Becker said.

At St Joseph’s Demo Garden in North Little Rock, you’ll find Kendall Sanders, a sociology major, a graduate of Hot Springs Math and Science High School.

But with Americorps, she’s tending the garden.

"I want to be a difference. I want to make a difference. And so whenever we were in our interview, I just did a final project about food insecurity and reproductive justice," Sanders said.

"It fits with what I do. It fits what I'm passionate about. So this is a great opportunity."

And then there's Rachel Patridge, a Parkview graduate, who serves the Centennial Garden at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

"Well, when COVID really started to hit, I was actually in Barcelona teaching English," Patridge said.

Will, Kendall, and Rachel are representative of what was a pleasant summer surprise: Young people fighting off COVID with community service. 

Americorps felt they’d be lucky to get 10 new service members even though they were funded for twenty.

Sarah Lane is the Farm to School program coordinator for the Arkansas Department of Agriculture who saw an opportunity in the big response to a call for service.

"I mean, we could not be happier, we were over the moon that we were able to fulfill all 20 of our AmeriCorps slots for this summer," Lane said.

Vegetables at community gardens often go to food pantries and farmers' markets. In the virtual classrooms, gardens can be used to teach classes in all subjects.

And what this does for the AmeriCorps service members is best exhibited by Will, whose fellow college grads were out in the corporate world.

When asked whether it bothers him that he was kneeling in a garden getting muddy knees from compost, he said, "Not at all. Not at all. I figure if it’s an experience that I can write about and that I can grow from, it’s a worthwhile one."