One of our August highlights was welcoming for the first time two teams of youth from Summerworks and Urban Conservation Corps to Bernheim. Both are programs administered by YouthBuild Louisville, an amazing non-profit organization providing education, counseling and job skills to underserved young adults ages 18-24. The Louisville affiliate is one of 273 YouthBuild programs in the United States serving about 10,000 young people yearly.
We collaborated with YouthBuild in a work-study partnership in which participants helped us with maintaining trails, harvesting from the Edible Garden, and processing herbs and vegetables for preserving for future use at Isaac’s Café. In exchange for their hard work, we took them on guided hikes to some of our favorite places — Rock Run Loop, the Edible Garden, and the Bent Twig Loop to name a few — and also showed them our new Playcosystem nature playground as its construction progresses. Our staff temporarily re-opened Isaac’s cafe to ensure they got a healthy, freshly-picked lunch every day.
We know that life isn’t an even playing field. Many of these youth come from difficult circumstances, some of them even homeless. So, it was impressive to see them jump in and take on new and challenging tasks in the sweltering August weather. It was fun to watch them document their time with us through photography. Most of all, it was a joy to see our place through their eyes — to witness at the same time the spark of excitement and also the profound sense of peace that comes from experiencing Bernheim for the first time. It gave us pause to reflect on and be grateful for the wonders that we are so fortunate to have and experience everyday as Bernheim staff.
The forest has that kind of magical quality that helps people forget whatever challenges life hands them — even if for just a little while. And beyond that, the forest also offers a career opportunity and a window to a bigger, wider world. It’s a core part of who we are as an organization to make everyone feel like they belong at Bernheim, that they have a place here. This organization was founded on the principle of being inclusive and welcoming to everyone regardless of race, creed, religion or origin. Isaac Bernheim, as a German Jewish immigrant, would have known quite well firsthand the hurt of being excluded, discriminated against and treated like a lesser human being owing to his origins. Bernheim has always stood for inclusion and being welcoming to all. But of course Bernheim, like many other public gardens, still needs and wants to do better to build diversity within our staff, within our profession, and among our volunteer, member and visitor communities. The “heim” in Bernheim means “home” in German. We want everyone who comes to visit us to feel at home here, to feel welcome and to feel needed — whether as a visitor or as a potential member of the public horticulture profession. It’s a big goal, but one of many great ways to achieve it is to partner with dynamic organizations like YouthBuild for programming that builds new relationships and helps us make our organization stronger by making it more inclusive and diverse. We’d like to express our gratitude to YouthBuild for this collaboration and hope this is only the start of a greater partnership that will benefit us all.