The power of independent living was the celebratory theme at Pahrump’s No To Abuse facility on Saturday.
Officials unveiled a newly-created garden sanctuary at their Blagg Road location.
Kerri Shilling, program manager for Independent Living of Foster Youth, said the garden was constructed by youth presently under the foster care program.
She noted the summer project was designed to instill basic life skills in the youth along with teamwork, accountability and responsibility skills.
“It teaches the kids skills like carpentry, plumbing and landscaping,” she said. “Most of all it’s to teach them teamwork, accountability and responsibility. We couldn’t think of a better way to do it than to embark on this project.”
Shilling said the youth who created the garden were under the direct supervision of a skilled carpenter.
She said the group anticipated the project would be finished within a few months after beginning back in March.
Those plans were dashed due to the brutal summer heat and the group, consisting of roughly five to six youth, was forced to work early mornings and late nights.
As a result, tomatoes, peppers and onions are now blooming in the garden.
“It got to a point where we were working in 100-to-115 degree weather,” she said. “We took a two-and-a half-month reprieve and started back up. Unfortunately we missed the summer planting, but we now have our fall plants that we just put in. There’s also a whole herb garden and it smells wonderful. Hopefully we’ll have all the garden full year-round.”
Aside from the construction skills gained, Shilling said there are other important lessons the youth are now learning.
“There’s some basic life skills but it’s also just to show them that if you take care of something and nurture it, it will grow and give back to you,” she said. “We want to teach these kids that they have to keep coming back to water it and nurture it and take care of it.”
At the entrance of the garden, the youth created a pathway lined with large stones displaying inspiring and contemplative messages for those who enter.
Shilling noted the work was performed by local master craftsman Rick Clout, owner of Pahrump’s Written in Stone.
“I just wanted some positive affirmations inscribed on the stones,” she said. “I gave Rick my favorite sayings that I use with the kids a lot. It’s not just for foster kids, because the messages are for adults as well. It’s about life and what we need to do to succeed.”
Shilling said the garden work was supervised by her husband Mike and volunteer Juan Hernandez.
Many of the materials were purchased through a grant process, but Shilling said the facility also received donations.
“We had several entities here in Pahrump and Las Vegas who came together for this,” she said. “Our plan is for this facility to grow. We will eventually have a beautiful mural displayed and everything the kids produced in the garden they get to take home so that’s all the more reason they need to take care of it.”
On the issue of foster parenting in the community, Shilling said the need for more foster parents is crucial.
“We have a lot of children in foster care and there’s probably more here in Pahrump than most of us know,” she said. “These kids want to stay here, so we need more foster parents here. The Department of Child and Family Services holds training seminars here for people who are interested in fostering.”
Additionally, Shilling said the youth presently in foster care are thriving.
She works with youth 14 to 21 years of age.
Once a youth turns 21, her services stop.
“I will say that when I started this program in 2008, we had very high pregnancy and dropout rates,” she said. “As of 2015 we are have 98 percent of our kids working, going to college and getting their education. They have proven to be productive members of our community so it’s working. The whole idea is for them to be self-sufficient adults.”
Those who wish to learn more about foster parenting can contact the Department of Child and Family Services Pahrump office at (775) 727-8497.
Shilling’s contact number is 775-751-1118 extension 103.
Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at email@example.com. Follow @sharrispvt on Twitter.