STEP – Sharing Teens and Elders Project, Seeds of Change, Thurston County Juvenile Court’s Youth Development Program

2021 was a year filled with uncertainty and unique challenges. In spite of those circumstances, a powerful partnership has been established between STEP Sharing Teens and Elders Project, the
Seeds of Change, and the Thurston County Juvenile Court’s Youth Development Program (YDP). In June 2021 a local gardener donated over 100 dahlia flower bulbs to the YDP to start a
flower garden. Those bulbs were planted by the juveniles of YDP at the Healing Hearts Ranch in Tumwater. Within a few short months, the flowers had grown and were producing many
beautiful blooms. The YDP clients tended the flowers regularly and learned the specifics of dahlia gardening.

The YDP curriculum puts an emphasis on engaging with community partners in a restorative model to benefit the YDP clients and community members. With this in mind, a connection was
made between Linda, who had access to elders through STEP, and the Juvenile Court, who had access to the juveniles through YDP. Ideas started to flow, and it was eventually decided that
this flower program could be a catalyst for intergenerational work between the two entities. With no budget and no similar program to review, the collaboration started. It was instantly
apparent that this partnership was going to be special, and unique. The positive energy increased with anticipation of our first “flower give away”, and we started distributing flowers in July to
Judicial staff and others in the Juvenile and Family court facility. The juveniles got great feedback from the Superior Court staff who graciously accepted the bouquets and agreed to
distribute them to the Judicial Officers. The satisfaction that the juveniles felt, and the appreciation that they received, combined to show us that we’re on the right track with this

Our first distribution event to the elders occurred on August 11, 2021 and was a huge success. Everyone was pleasantly surprised at how well both groups (elders and juveniles) interacted and
showed appreciation for each other. There were many positive stories that came from this interaction and the flowers went quickly to the elders, bringing color and joy to their residences
at the Boardwalk Apartments in downtown Olympia. Building upon that success, we coordinated another distribution event on August 30, 2021, and this time included fresh
vegetables from the Seeds of Change garden, in addition to the fresh flowers. Again, a very successful event with appreciation from all parties, and requests that these events continue.
Some of the elders that received flowers or vegetables indicated an interest in seeing the Juvenile Court’s garden where the produce is grown. With that interest, a tour of the Seeds of Change
garden was arranged for September 7, 2021. With Linda’s help at arranging transportation for the elders, we had a fantastic event. The juveniles displayed their pride at growing the produce
and flowers and explaining this to the elders. The elders received a tour of the garden and left with swag including flowers and fresh vegetables. Again, many meaningful interactions
occurred during this event, further indicating that this restorative model has many different applications and benefits to both communities.

As the growing season ended, and our young people returned to school, the program pivoted again. With the holiday season approaching, the YDP youth began making holiday decorations
for the elders. They worked on the holiday decorations for several months, and on December 17, 2021 held another distribution event at the Boardwalk Apartments to distribute those
decorations. It was a big success, bringing joy to many during this “restricted” holiday season. The feedback that we have received from juveniles, elders, adult supporters, and others has been
nothing but positive. The connection that is achieved between the juveniles and elders has been remarkable and is amazing to see firsthand. The juveniles all show the elders great respect and
seem to appreciate the vulnerability of aging adults. They relish in “helping” the elders and brightening their days. The elders, with their great wisdom and life experiences, show
tremendous interest in these young adults, give them positive attention, and the sort of advice that can only come from an elder. It’s like these two communities of people have much more in
common than most of us recognize. Young people are trying to figure out how they fit into, and contribute to, society. Elders are also trying to figure out how they fit in, and contribute, at that
stage of their lives. There’s an “unspoken understanding” about this that seems to break down typical barriers that get in the way of communication between other groups. This positive energy
is palpable when the elders and youth get together.

Looking forward, there is no question that this partnership is valuable and has great meaning and potential. We anticipate the flower and vegetable distribution to occur again during the summer
of 2022, and there are discussions about the YDP juveniles preparing small herb planters for elders’ apartments to distribute this Spring. We also anticipate some “training” sessions with
Linda to further enhance the interactions between the YDP youth and the elders when they get together. Additionally, Kirsty Dees from the Healing Hearts Ranch has experience working with
elders and her equine program, so there have been discussions about including the horses in an “event” for the youth and elders in the future. This is exciting and brings even more positive
energy to the interactions between the groups.

While 2021 certainly came with some challenges, this unique collaboration, has been incredibly successful and encouraging. The partnerships that have been developed are strong and since
there’s no real “road map” for how this goes, there is much flexibility in continuing to build on what is working. Every time we have an event that brings these specific communities together, it
is obvious that we are onto something positive and worthwhile. It is with that in mind that we continue to value this relationship and look forward to the future.

Mike Gilman