sw_photo3_intMiddle school youngsters can make for a tough audience, especially on a mid-afternoon in December after they’ve put in a full day at school and community volunteers show up bearing their best pearls of wisdom.

The combustible collision of intergenerational energy isn’t necessarily the most desirable village mosaic for the “Young People, I’m here to help you” spiel. Experience tells us, we adults not only must be in sync with what’s on the minds of today’s young people, but we also need to communicate in mediums with which they are familiar. Being cool and succinct enough to hold the 60 seconds of attention today’s latch key crowd might begrudgingly afford us is a challenge we must meet.   A verbal adaptation of the 140 character Twitter format might be just long enough to make your point with today’s adolescents.

On the same afternoon that the world received the shocking news of President Nelson Mandela’s passing, Atlanta City Council President Ceasar Mitchell and Health and Human Services facet members of the Buckhead/Cascade City Chapter of Links, Incorporated gathered in the gymnasium of the W.W. Woolfolk Boys and Girls Club in Southwest Atlanta for an afterschool program assembly.  The elementary school students were a captive audience – all anxious to be called on in response to Mr. Mitchell’s well prepared and engaging Q & A about healthy habits and the utility of community/urban gardening. In sharp contrast were the eye rolling and not at all discrete bored yawns emanating from the older students.  No doubt, they felt trapped by the seemingly impromptu gathering, and felt completely unconnected to the one-sided conversation on the virtues of growing and eating one’s own vegetables.  Their blank expressions conveyed the sentiment: “You mean we’re supposed to like kale and get excited about raising it up out of our own urban dirt?”

Undaunted and determined to build the village literally from ground up, we pressed forward in our message about important goal of self-sufficiency and the natural high brought about through healthy living. The assembly ended, and my Link Sisters and I headed to the garden with mulch, gloves, seedlings, gardening tools and a few newly converted pre-teen green thumbs. The afternoon ended successfully, and several of the young people committed to tending the vegetable garden in the New Year.  A dedication of the green space to President Nelson Mandela and his quest for world peace is in the works.

Maybe this is just a small start with a few young people, but even if the vegetables they grow aren’t Whole Foods quality I believe we will have planted an important seed for their life long development.  I always leave the Woolfolk Boys and Girls Club confident that I’ve just spent a couple of hours mentoring a future councilman or judge or business owner.  It’s a great way to end my workday.  If you aren’t presently volunteering at a local school or community center, I urge you to consider making this one of your 2014 resolutions. In my judgment, doing so will be time well spent. And just in case you don’t know, kale rocks!

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