Growing beauty & Resilience
If you have driven by our building on Fannin recently you may have noticed a new addition. A vertical garden now adorns the north wall, facing Francis Street. Both the 16 feet wide by 8 feet high metal frame reaching over 10 feet above the sidewalk and the beautiful plants residing in it are essential parts of a program LOTS has launched with the help of visionary benefactors and by volunteers who share some expertise in gardening.
The program, called the Up Garden, seeks to give attention and encouragement to homeless men and women. Principles like resilience, endurance, and sustainability are just as applicable to people, as they are to plants and landscapes.
Alison West of Cleveland’s Flowers and Gardens is the principal visionary of the Up Garden. The name was chosen for its double meaning - a way to convey both that the plants are growing up on a vertical garden on the wall at LOTS and the people who participate in the training provided are being offered a hand up and not just a hand out. Alison shares what this garden means for her, LOTS Houston, and the neighbors we serve.
Tell us about yourself and how the vision for the Up Garden came about?
I’m Alison West and I own and operate a landscape design company. I’ve been volunteering with the homeless ministries of LOTS for many years, including the Sunday morning Healing Prayer team. About 18 months ago Reverend Steve shared the vision of remodeling the inside of LOTS’ building and beautifying the outside. And as a landscape designer, the idea of transforming a blank wall into a beautiful vertical garden jumped to mind. But Steve and I also realized the garden could serve as more than just an aesthetic improvement to the building, and thus the vision for the Up Garden was born. This is a personal endeavor as much as a professional endeavor for me. I’m thankful that my passion for service and landscaping seem to intersect in a unique way that fits so well with the mission of LOTS.
What is the vision for the Up Garden?
For the Up Garden we wanted to create a blackboard for learning --a greenboard if you will—that we could use to teach LOTS’ neighbors the basics of landscape design and plant maintenance in a hands-on manner. This vision is for the program to provide LOTS’ neighbors a skillset and a path to employment. I wanted to give forward in the way so many have given to me, by creating a community of support, encouragement, and opportunity to move forward in life.
How does the program work?
The Up Garden program uses the fundamentals of landscape design to provide workforce development and training to participants. We crafted six 1-hour training lessons that participants complete over three days. We built a hands-on program, not lectures, so that everyone is engaged and encouraged to participate, to ask questions, to work as a team, and to have fun! One of my favorite lessons includes a native Texas plant scavenger hunt where participants venture around the area with plant ‘Bingo’ cards to identify native plants in the area. They get pretty excited as they learn from their surroundings.
Each participant must first apply, go through an interview, be accepted into the program, and attend each of the training days before they can graduate with a certificate of completion. Upon completion, we guarantee interviews with our Houston-based wholesale nursery partners who have agreed to give our participants an interview. We have completed two training sessions thus far and it has been an honor and privilege to observe our participants’ willingness to learn and to see their sense of esteem grow as they move through the program, graduating with their certificates.
What successes have you seen thus far?
The power of partnerships has been a huge success of this program. Even businesses with no prior connection to LOTS have joined us. LOTS Houston and Steve Capper have been the foundation of this endeavor. I would say one of the more programmatic successes is seeing glimpses that we’re building a community that makes our participants feel welcome and celebrated for their accomplishment as they complete their training. LOTS Houston’s mission is to “welcome, restore, and rebuild lives through relationship-focused ministries”, and this program epitomizes that mission. We care deeply about the individuals we serve. One of our participants is even coming back to receive an Up Garden Facilitator Certificate! He wanted to continue learning, and he asked if he might assist with future training. This sense of belonging and being of service would not be possible without the foundations LOTS has built.
Have you encountered any challenges?
For participants, they deal with challenges and barriers that certainly impact them. These barriers can include reliable transportation; a phone to help keep a schedule and be in touch; and even a photo ID which is required for many job interviews. For some the challenge is learning integrity – doing what you say you’ll do, whether it is showing up on time, or resisting the habits of isolation. LOTS and the Up Garden program work to create a safe space in which to address these challenges.
What success would you like to see in the future?
We certainly would like to grow the program. We would like to grow from 2-3 participants per training class to 4-5 participants each time and we would like to conduct the program bi-monthly. We would also like to grow our partnerships. It is our hope to invite representatives from nurseries around Houston to come to each graduation, meet our job candidates, and come to see the Up Garden as a premier resource for when they need more employees. That would help streamline the process for interviews and relationship-building.
What do you see as long term success for our participants?
Seeing them consistently take advantage of this opportunity as the next step on their path to personal development, as well as employment.
LOTS Houston and Alison West would like to thank the financial donors, gardening volunteers, and the nursery and landscape partners who have supported the launch of the Up Garden and are instrumental in the ongoing success of the program.