My Day at the Grant High GEO Garden
Lauren Lee, Government Relations Manager


I have to admit, on my way to my volunteer activity for Young Leaders Society I was tired and almost cancelled at the last minute. My email inbox was full and I was behind on some projects. It would have been so easy to cancel. But then I reminded myself that would the easy way out and that I’ve never gone to a volunteer event that I’ve regretted. I always walk away with a sense of fulfillment and pride; a feeling that I helped make my community a better place. So I got out of the car and went to the Grant High Geo Garden with a (forced) smile on my face. 

The high school students explained our task for the day: to take our Fit Kids on a tour of the garden and talk to them about their favorite fruits and veggies and then help them cook what they grew in the Kitchen. So my group took our three students around the garden and talked to them about daily intake of fiber and vitamins and pointed out broccoli and kiwi had more nutrients than those nachos they all love. The kids were engaged and actually looked like they were learning but none more than 8 year old Alejandro. Alejandro was very apparently the class clown who was eager to be liked by his peers and gain the respect of the adults in his life. He was one of the most gregarious little boys I’ve ever met and he made such an impact on me, I will never forget him. 

GEO GardenOnce the tour of the garden was complete, we headed in to see what was on the menu to cook today from the garden. Street tacos! A food most of the kids were familiar with and excited to learn how to make themselves! Chef Brenda demonstrated how to properly use a knife to cut our sweet potatoes to mix them in with the shredded chicken, how to strip the kale to sauté with our beans, and how to blend our salsa in the blender. As my group supervised the kids to make sure no limbs were chopped off, we had some interesting conversation. I prompted Alejandro about his favorite foods and how to cook them. He explained his mom, his brother and he don’t usually have meals together and his favorite food to cook is hot dogs. He told me his meticulous method to get his hot dogs cooked just right in the microwave with cheese and ketchup. He did not know how the stove worked, what olive oil was, and certainly had limited knowledge of fresh foods, gardening and nutrition. I gently reminded him all the fresh food we were cooking today was a better way to get all the nutrients he needed than a hot dog, and he agreed. 

When our tacos were almost ready, we asked the kids to set the table so we could sit down and eat together. We passed around the chicken and beans and all made our plates. Alejandro was fascinated with how delicious all of this was and that we didn’t even need a microwave to cook any of it! “This feels like a family!” he proclaimed as we were sharing our meal. He was doe eyed and filled with pride of the meal he helped prepare. On his way out, I asked him if he thought he could make this for his family. He told me, he was positive he could do this himself, and then he stopped. “But we don’t have a garden…” he pondered for a minute. Then the light bulb went off in his head. “I’ll ask my mom to put these ingredients on the grocery list!” he exclaimed. Then he went back to talking football with his friends.I don’t know if Alejandro went home and made the wholesome meal for his family. But I do know I helped a young, impressionable kid learn where his food came from, how to prepare it, and gave him some tools to make healthier choices. Not saying my professional work isn’t important, but I know I made more of a difference this day by choosing to volunteer than I ever could have made emptying my email inbox. 

Lauren Lee is the Government Relations Manager for United Way California Capital Region. She works with state employees to help them find nonprofits and community causes they are passionate about. Lauren loves farmers markets, shelter dogs, and yoga.