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A Happy Youth Development Program

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"The 16 and 17 were happy days," says Dietrich on the second and last day of the Compass High Retreat. "I wish we would stay another night," he says.  "Me, too, Dietrich. Me, too," I respond.

Last Thursday and Friday were also happy days for me. Actually, they are the happiest days I have experienced as the Youth Development Intern.  We had our first retreat of the year and we were privileged to work with Compass High, a comprehensive high school for students with learning differences that just opened last fall.  Five of the eight students at Compass High joined us on Thursday morning, along with four staff, including administrators, so with Bill, Sid, and I, the ratio was greater than 1:1.  

"Welcome, everyone! We are excited to have you here. Now before we start with introductions, who can tell me why we are here?" I ask. "Community service," says Paige quietly.  I remember their names because we paid them a visit just last week.  We at Youth Development strive to visit every classroom before they visit ours, which is Hidden Villa's vast land.  We want to give students an opportunity to meet us and get to know us through our ice breakers and activities before we spend a whole day or more with them.

"That's a great answer, Paige. Who else has ideas of why we are here?" I ask.  A few moments later, Madison says, "Connect?"  "Yes!" I sigh.  "We are here for connection. We want to give you opportunities to connect with one another and we want to connect with you.  We want you to feel connected to this land, these trees, and these hills," I say, as I glance at the glistening green leaves around us.  

Connection was a theme of the retreat while the program focused on farm and wilderness.  After a few team-building activities and introducing the group to our beautiful farm animals, we set out to make apple muffins to deepen their understanding of where our food comes from.  We picked apples from our apple trees, collected eggs straight from chicken's nests, made butter, and grinded wheat berries.  In the end, we enjoyed apple muffins with a greater appreciation for earth because it provides so much for us.  

The next morning, we connected deeper with nature.  We walked alone on the trail for a few minutes while practicing to walk like a fox after expressing gratitude to people, earth, water, plants, our fellow animals, wind and weather, sun and moon, and the rest of the stars.  We made nature journals and befriended trees, which we got to know after spending time with them, noticing all that they were, what they felt like, what sounds they made, and what they smelled like.  As a last activity, we made pillows out of lavender, mint and other herbs, and wool we carded ourselves, wool from our very own sheep.

After a closing circle, in which we shared our beautiful perceptions of each other and hugged one another with great warmth, Bill, Sid, and I wished for more time with them.  Time to connect with them deeper, for them to connect with each other more, for them to see the connections all around them, with the land, trees and hills.  Josephine Duveneck once said, "Becoming aware of the relationship of all living things to other living things is the key to knowing ourselves. It is the basis for understanding the intricate web of life."  With Compass High, we strived towards increasing such awareness, and as our connection with them grows, we hope this awareness will also continue to grow.

To find out more about Hidden Villa Youth Development programs check out our Youth Development Page.

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Field to Families-Experiencing Supportive Partnerships in Our Community

There is nothing quite like getting your hands into the soil and spending a warm summer morning volunteering with our CSA crew. After going over details of the morning’s tasks, myself and fellow volunteers were directed to rows of melons and tomatoes to begin clearing weeds and as we worked, we learned why this tedious task was so important to keeping our crops productive and healthy. Not only did I get to know the land that I was working on, but I also got to know the people that I was working with. As we continued to zig-zag down each row, I was able to learn a little bit more about our volunteers and what motivates them to come out to Hidden Villa. Whether an employee, volunteer, or visitor, many of us share a common interest to connect with the natural world and feel a sense of responsibility to take care of this space for future generations.

That same week, I had the opportunity to volunteer with the Mountain View Community Services Agency, whom we partner with to provide about 25% of our produce to their Food and Nutrition Center, which is then distributed to over 4,800 low-income residents. I was excited to see first-hand how this figure makes an impact on the community. As I was led back to the Food and Nutrition Center’s distribution area, I instantly recognized our bright yellow bins full of cucumber, kale, squash, fennel and fresh basil. While walking through the different food stations, I was told that members loved coming on produce day because they have never tasted vegetables as good as the ones that come from Hidden Villa. In addition to donated produce, the Food and Nutrition Center also makes sure that the shelves are stocked with staple items such as rice, beans, bread and pasta to offer a balanced diet and easy preparation.

I couldn’t wait to throw on an apron and help out in any way that I could. Stationed at the check-out area, I made sure that baskets were full of the number of items each member was allowed to have and offered any assistance if they had questions about the produce. Not a single person passed through the check-out without a smile on their face and as I smiled back, I could not only see the impact that this partnership has in supporting the local community, but I could feel it. Spending time in the field with our CSA crew and volunteering with the CSA of Mountain View’s Food Bank gave me a great sense of appreciation for the amount of work that many folks contribute toward improving the lives of fellow community members.  

We must give more in order to get more. It is the generous giving of ourselves that produces the generous harvest.- Orison Swett Marden

kale and squash

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