Volunteer Spotlight: Reach77 Asks “What Do You Need?”

Heartland Human Care Services’ anti-trafficking program, Freedom from Trafficking (FFT), partners with Traffick Free, a faith-motivated organization in Chicago that raises awareness about human trafficking in the Chicagoland area. Anytime FFT has a need, Traffick Free sends a call to action to their volunteer network. That is how Lauren and Kourtney Seaman came to volunteer with FFT.

One day, Lauren and Kourtney dropped off donated girls’ clothes that they no longer needed and began a conversation with FFT staff about the program’s work and the needs of survivors – about 75% of whom are undocumented when they begin services. At the time, a barrier many program participants were facing involved accessing culturally appropriate food at the local food pantries. Pantries often also require some form of identification and/or their hours are sporadic, making it difficult for FFT participants to obtain food. Kourtney and Lauren looked at each other and said “We have a storage closet in our building, why don’t we make it a food pantry for your program?” And they did. But their generosity and huge hearts did not stop there.

In January 2014, FFT was working with an undocumented female survivor of labor trafficking from Africa named Mariam. She was staying at a shelter but her allowable time to stay there was ending and she needed somewhere safe to go. After many phone calls to programs across the city, FFT staff sent a desperate email to Traffick Free explaining Mariam’s situation. By that evening, Kourtney had called and offered to let Mariam stay in their spare bedroom. But they could only house Mariam for up to two weeks because Kourtney’s mom was coming to stay with them. Kourtney was pregnant with their second daughter and due in just a few weeks.

When Mariam first arrived, she would stay in her room much of the time but slowly, she began to have meals with Lauren and Kourtney’s family. She then began to cook meals with them from her home country. She spent more of her time in their living room than in her room. She was there when their second daughter was born. Lauren and Kourtney adjusted their home and welcomed both Kourtney’s mom and Mariam to stay.

FFT staff worked hard to identify a transitional housing program that had an opening and could take Mariam, but when they did, they found out there was a catch. She had to be considered “homeless” in order to get housing, meaning that Mariam had to move out of Lauren and Kourtney’s safe and comfortable home and into a homeless shelter in order to qualify for the program.

Once back in the shelter, it took months for the transitional housing program to find Mariam an apartment due to landlords not accepting her without credit and without a social security number. During the time she was waiting for her studio apartment, Mariam spent nearly every day at Lauren and Kourtney’s home because she felt safe and supported there.

Lauren and Kourtney along with their church group, Reach77, remain in Mariam’s life today. She visits them weekly for meals and for their Bible study group. She joins them for holidays. She visited when their third daughter was born. And, with the help of Reach77, Mariam moved into a new apartment with her permanent Housing Choice Voucher through the Chicago Housing Authority — a program that launched in April of 2017 after much advocacy by anti-trafficking programs, the Administration of Children and Families, CHA, and HUD. It was stories like Mariam’s that helped Freedom from Trafficking convince leaders that something had to change within the housing system to ensure survivors like Mariam did not have to be re-traumatized over and over again in order to find a safe place to lay their head at night.

Lauren, Kourtney, and Reach77 have been invaluable allies and partners in this work. They constantly ask “what do you need,” and then quickly respond with “okay, we are on it.” The Freedom from Trafficking program would not be able to carry out the critical services that we provided to survivors without the support and generosity of this group and volunteers like Lauren and Kourtney.

Volunteer Spotlight: Specialized ESL Training with Jan

Krystina is quite familiar with hard work. A doctor from Belarus, she became the head of the infectious disease department in her hospital before turning thirty.

But when Krystina and her husband went to the American Embassy to get their visas to live in the US, they came face to face with their biggest challenge yet: their English could hardly get them through even a basic conversation with their immigration clerk.

“If you want to be successful here, you need to learn English. We thought we knew English pretty well, but in reality we understood nothing.”

Even still, Krystina and her family emigrated to the US with visas in hand. The American dream all seemed to be falling into place, but Krystina still dreamt of continuing her path as a doctor. That meant one thing: she was going to need to understand English far better than she did at the embassy.

Upon arriving to the US, Krystina sought out the help of Heartland Alliance’s Refugee and Immigrant Community Services programing in the Belmont Cragin neighborhood. The organization has been teaching ESL and citizenship classes to Chicago’s immigrant populations for years, and Krystina felt at home almost as soon as she walked through the doors.

Classes began with simple conversational English and phrases that would help around the city, and over the months Krystina grew in confidence and ability. But when it came to knowing the language necessary to pass medical exams, she knew she needed a little extra help. It was about six months into her training that she met Jan Lupinek, a retired programmer and longtime ESL volunteer.

“I’ve worked with students who started off at a very low level and watching them grow is very gratifying – and Krystina’s situation was something I grew very interested in very quickly.” Jan said.

There are 7 volumes of medical licensing that needs to be studied in order to pass three exams to be recertified in medicine here in the US. With such a huge mass of words and phrases – and virtually none of it conversational – the two had their work cut out for them.

“I haven’t done anything quite as technical as this,” Jan said. “But it’s been a real pleasure getting to do something so difficult.”

Every week, the duo is studies a whole mess of scientific and technical language. Microbiology, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, anatomy, Krystina’s experience in all of these fields mean nothing until she can understand them in fluent English – and she is flourishing. Jan’s specialized system of teaching gives Krystina more than just a surface-level understanding of the language.

“In ESL, a lot of teachers just explain what to do without explaining why,” said Jan. “That’s not me. It really is about understanding how the language works, that’s how you can truly teach proper English.”

Krystina is now making plans to take the first exam this summer. Within less than one year, she’s gone from hardly understanding English in an Eastern European embassy to reading high-level medical texts in fluent English. She’s spoken with a handful of her Belarussian colleagues that have also made the move to the US, and they seem quite excited for her future.

“I love Heartland, and I’m very grateful for Jan. You know, I can’t find medical vocabulary in regular classes, and nobody else I know needs this help I feel real improvement. I feel like I read faster, like I pronounce things better, and I can thank Jan for all of that.”

Veterans Helping Veterans: Christian and our SSVF Team

Christian remembers the exact moment he decided to join the military. On September 11, 2001 he was just 8 years old but his memories of the events that unfolded remain vivid. He remembers going to school, watching the news with his peers and teachers – but most importantly, he remembers the inherent pull towards protecting his country, towards service.

“It was always my plan to be in the military for as long as I can remember, but that was the day I knew I was going to sign up.”

Nine years later, Christian joined the Army at the age of 17. During the testing process, he was given a rather large selection but ultimately decided to be a medic. While he was ready to join infantry, his family’s protective nature and concern led him to find a compromise that would still keep him close to the front lines. With tours in Afghanistan and Africa, Christian spent four years in active duty and a quarter of his life in service.

When it was time to transition to the next chapter of his life – coming home – he felt both excited and scared. He was ready to take advantage of the GI Bill and find the skills necessary to help people in civilian life, but the instant transition of responsibilities felt daunting.

As he settled into life back home, Christian stayed with family but that was short-lived – and after tensions rose to uncomfortable levels, Christian decided to find a path all his own.

“I knew I needed to find my own way but when I moved out on my own, I didn’t find a place immediately – nor did I have the financial means. I had no idea how to find a place of my own, how to set up utilities. All of that stuff is taken care of when you’re in the military. Emotionally, mentally, it was exhausting trying to start from scratch.”

So he crashed on couches, hopping from house to house and trying to make sure he didn’t overstay his welcome. In just a few short months though, Christian found himself living out of his car. He remembers just how little space he had with most of the car used as storage for his belongings, and he remembers how exhausting the days were. “I didn’t want to take advantage of my friends. It got really tough. I didn’t have the luxury of enjoying the normal things that people take for granted. I missed the comfort of home.”

But Christian was determined and he kept moving forward. He enrolled in one of Chicago’s City Colleges and continued to apply for local work. During one fateful visit at the Chicago Veterans Affairs office, Christian finally began to find a leg up. A checkup and routine immunizations for school gave him the opportunity to speak with a local case manager, who mentioned Heartland Alliance’s Supportive Services for Veterans and their Families (SSVF) program. He made the call and met with our team just a few days later.

“The intake process for SSVF was great. I went in a little nervous. I wasn’t expecting someone to be so nice to me, given my situation. I feel like they got a sense of me as a person, as a human being.”

SSVF case managers were able to get Christian off the streets, helping him find an apartment, providing nine-months of rental assistance, and supporting him every step of the way as he worked to build a brighter future. He used his military-medic skills to become an EMT with a local ambulance company and got a part-time job as a lifeguard. The income from his new jobs, combined with the rental assistance, meant he was able to save and make plans for the future. He paid off credit cards and began building a nest egg while going back to school.

“I was given a chance for a reset, I could really build my life back together.”

Christian is truly a model participant. His dedication and mission-driven attitude underscores the SSVF program’s very purpose. We believe that everyone should have access to housing, healthcare, jobs, and justice. We believe that because we know how people respond to that opportunity. Ultimately, it was Christian’s incredible response that led SSVF case managers to invite him to apply for a new peer-support specialist position within the program – which he ultimately secured!

“It’s an honor,” he says. “This is something I’ve hoped to be in my life. I want to be a humanitarian. As a medic, it’s about working right then and there. I’m a first response kind of guy, and I want to use that to help people who are in need.”

Now Christian spends his Tuesdays and Wednesdays working hand in hand with those who are experiencing the same struggles he’s worked so hard to overcome. And, Christian’s dedication to his peers has already made a huge impact on the program’s successes. Service members who have struggled to find employment or housing now have a deeper connection with the program, and feel as though their goals are attainable thanks to Christian’s compassion, knowledge, and experience.

“It’s so important to have someone who can relate to the people we serve, making that bond between participants and program more cohesive. A lot of people open up to me because I’m a veteran, because I was in the program. A lot of times people have spilled their guts to me, and people need that. Sometimes, we lock down as veterans unless we are talking to other veterans.” Today, he continues to serve his country and work toward his degree in psychology, which he’ll complete in June.

“I want to do more. I know I have more to give. Thanks to Heartland Alliance, I’ve never been more certain of that.”

Gathering Everyone Around the Table

Thanksgiving is a special time at Heartland Alliance. It provides staff members and participants the opportunity to connect with one another, and to reflect on our progress and successes. From refugees and immigrants celebrating the holiday for the first time, to survivors of trafficking and violence who have found peace in the past year, Heartland Alliance programs of all backgrounds had a chance to celebrate.

Freedom From Trafficking: Day of Thanks Celebration

Gathering participants, staff, interns, and volunteers to celebrate at Catalyst Ranch, our Freedom from Trafficking (FFT) program spent the holiday focusing on community and the things that bind us together. Attendees shared the things they’re grateful for on the “Tree of Thanks”—their lives, their families, the people who make them smile, their health, and “all the incredible people who make every day a step forward.”

Each year, the FFT team recognizes a local partner with the “Bridge to Freedom Award” during the celebration. This year, HHCS Executive Director David Sinski and FFT Associate Director Darci Flynn presented Kourtney and Lauren Seamen of Reach 77—a faith-based network of volunteers throughout Chicago’s 77 neighborhoods—in recognition of their many years of contributions to the FFT and Heartland community. Among other supports, Kourtney and Lauren opened up a food pantry out of their storage room, donated money to help furnish survivors’ homes, adopted several families over the holidays to ensure they had gifts to open with their children, and provided housing for survivors facing homelessness.

Thanks to the Seamens and Reach 77 – we are truly grateful for you!

READI Chicago Celebration

READI Chicago outreach partner, UCAN, hosted a Thanksgiving celebration for the READI Chicago North Lawndale location. READI Chicago staff from UCAN, Lawndale Christian Legal Center, and the North Lawndale Employment Network joined participants for food, music, and thanks. During the celebration, participants received awards for timeliness and participation in cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as recognition for advancing to Stage 2 in their transitional jobs.

Marjorie Kovler Center Cooking Group

This Thanksgiving, staff and participants from many programs gathered to cook, eat, and give thanks for the communities, opportunities, and safety they have found through Heartland Alliance. The Marjorie Kovler Center celebrated Thanksgiving with an international cooking group. Survivors of torture and their families came together to share recipes and memories from back home. The result? A globally inspired Thanksgiving meal like no other!

Refugee and Immigrant Community Services – RICSGIVING

Our refugee resettlement team loves to celebrate their annual tradition, where new Americans from around the city gather to eat, connect, and enjoy the holiday season – with some enjoying Thanksgiving for the very first time! Students created “Gratitude Jars” where they decorated mason jars and filled them with little notes about things in their lives that they’re grateful for, as well as painted pictures to hang near the “Gratitude Turkey.”

Students also selected feathers on our Gratitude Turkey and wrote one thing they’re thankful for.

The Refugee and Immigrant Community Services (RICS) team is particularly thankful for their longtime partner and supporter, East Bank Club. The River North fitness club has been a longtime employer of numerous new Americans, providing them the opportunity necessary to rebuild their lives in Chicago. Every Thanksgiving, the team at EBC give their employees the option to donate their Thanksgiving Day turkeys to our resettlement programs. Thank you!

Ali Brown of Supportive Services for Veteran Families

Ali Brown started as a housing resource specialist for the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) team, dedicated to the idea of serving vulnerable populations. Her passion for the work has allowed her to thrive at SSVF where she is now a program manager. Helping veterans find housing and opportunity in Chicago is more than just a job for Ali, it’s a personal mission.

  1. What got you into this work?

I got an undergraduate degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always been passionate about homeless services – and actually got my start at Heartland Alliance Health right out of grad school. I was working with individuals who were chronically homeless, and just loved the feeling of the huge impact I was making on the lives of my participants.

That particular program was ending, and I knew I wanted to continue to serve individuals experiencing homelessness – and continue working for Heartland Alliance. Fortunately for me, I found SSVF.

  1. Why is this work important to the community? To the people we serve?

With veterans services specifically, there’s been a huge national push to end veteran homelessness. Having a chance to be a part of that in one of the largest cities in the country has been profound. Since 2014, we’ve seen the amount of veterans living on the streets of Chicago go from over 3,000 to under 700. That’s spectacular. These are individuals who have sacrificed for us, so of course we should make sure they can live under a roof.

  1. Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?

I’ve felt that right off the bat at Heartland Alliance. When you start to see the changes in the lives of the people we serve, it moves you. Even small successes can transform into huge life changing events. Heartland Alliance’s mission aligns with who I want to be and what I want to do.

  1. What is your favorite part of your job?

It really is all about the successes of our participants. We’ve had some participants come in a bit jaded – people who had bad experiences with other service agencies, and we’ve shifted their perspective. Seeing the hope come back into their lives, it’s so fulfilling.

  1. How can others help your work?

It really is about educating yourself to be a more helpful person. We have a coordinated entry system in Chicago that actually helps people get connected to the right program now, so knowing what is near your home or near your place of work can be a dramatic first step to helping someone exit homelessness.

Veterans Helping Veterans: Christian and our SSVF Team

Christian remembers the exact moment he decided to join the military. On September 11, 2001 he was just 8 years old but his memories of the events that unfolded remain vivid. He remembers going to school, watching the news with his peers and teachers – but most importantly, he remembers the inherent pull towards protecting his country, towards service.

“It was always my plan to be in the military for as long as I can remember, but that was the day I knew I was going to sign up.”

Nine years later, Christian joined the Army at the age of 17. During the testing process, he was given a rather large selection but ultimately decided to be a medic. While he was ready to join infantry, his family’s protective nature and concern led him to find a compromise that would still keep him close to the front lines. With tours in Afghanistan and Africa, Christian spent four years in active duty and a quarter of his life in service.

When it was time to transition to the next chapter of his life – coming home – he felt both excited and scared. He was ready to take advantage of the GI Bill and find the skills necessary to help people in civilian life, but the instant transition of responsibilities felt daunting.

As he settled into life back home, Christian stayed with family but that was short-lived – and after tensions rose to uncomfortable levels, Christian decided to find a path all his own.

“I knew I needed to find my own way but when I moved out on my own, I didn’t find a place immediately – nor did I have the financial means. I had no idea how to find a place of my own, how to set up utilities. All of that stuff is taken care of when you’re in the military. Emotionally, mentally, it was exhausting trying to start from scratch.”

So he crashed on couches, hopping from house to house and trying to make sure he didn’t overstay his welcome. In just a few short months though, Christian found himself living out of his car. He remembers just how little space he had with most of the car used as storage for his belongings, and he remembers how exhausting the days were. “I didn’t want to take advantage of my friends. It got really tough. I didn’t have the luxury of enjoying the normal things that people take for granted. I missed the comfort of home.”

But Christian was determined and he kept moving forward. He enrolled in one of Chicago’s City Colleges and continued to apply for local work. During one fateful visit at the Chicago Veterans Affairs office, Christian finally began to find a leg up. A checkup and routine immunizations for school gave him the opportunity to speak with a local case manager, who mentioned Heartland Alliance’s Supportive Services for Veterans and their Families (SSVF) program. He made the call and met with our team just a few days later.

“The intake process for SSVF was great. I went in a little nervous. I wasn’t expecting someone to be so nice to me, given my situation. I feel like they got a sense of me as a person, as a human being.”

SSVF case managers were able to get Christian off the streets, helping him find an apartment, providing nine-months of rental assistance, and supporting him every step of the way as he worked to build a brighter future. He used his military-medic skills to become an EMT with a local ambulance company and got a part-time job as a lifeguard. The income from his new jobs, combined with the rental assistance, meant he was able to save and make plans for the future. He paid off credit cards and began building a nest egg while going back to school.

“I was given a chance for a reset, I could really build my life back together.”

Christian is truly a model participant. His dedication and mission-driven attitude underscores the SSVF program’s very purpose. We believe that everyone should have access to housing, healthcare, jobs, and justice. We believe that because we know how people respond to that opportunity. Ultimately, it was Christian’s incredible response that led SSVF case managers to invite him to apply for a new peer-support specialist position within the program – which he ultimately secured!

“It’s an honor,” he says. “This is something I’ve hoped to be in my life. I want to be a humanitarian. As a medic, it’s about working right then and there. I’m a first response kind of guy, and I want to use that to help people who are in need.”

Now Christian spends his Tuesdays and Wednesdays working hand in hand with those who are experiencing the same struggles he’s worked so hard to overcome. And, Christian’s dedication to his peers has already made a huge impact on the program’s successes. Service members who have struggled to find employment or housing now have a deeper connection with the program, and feel as though their goals are attainable thanks to Christian’s compassion, knowledge, and experience.

“It’s so important to have someone who can relate to the people we serve, making that bond between participants and program more cohesive. A lot of people open up to me because I’m a veteran, because I was in the program. A lot of times people have spilled their guts to me, and people need that. Sometimes, we lock down as veterans unless we are talking to other veterans.” Today, he continues to serve his country and work toward his degree in psychology, which he’ll complete in June.

“I want to do more. I know I have more to give. Thanks to Heartland Alliance, I’ve never been more certain of that.”

Join Us To Protect the Rights and Dignity Of Immigrants and Asylum Seekers

Heartland Alliance was founded over 130 years ago to provide support and uphold the dignity of immigrants and refugees. We have long supported policies that promote welcoming communities, and advance the fair treatment of and opportunities for immigrants and their families.  And we know that immigrants and refugees make our city and country stronger economically, safer, and more robust socially and culturally.  Despite our efforts, these past several months have been extremely difficult for the participants we serve.

The current Administration has actively worked to undermine the rights and humane treatment of those who are most vulnerable and, in particular, to stoke fear and confusion in immigrant communities. We strongly oppose these actions that harm individuals seeking safety in the U.S. and that erode long-standing protections for immigrants and asylum seekers. 

We are seeing a loss of lawful status; enforcement strategies that terrorize communities and make U.S. borders hostile to asylum seekers; the erosion of the U.S. refugee resettlement programs; and an increased focus on detention and deportation. ALL of these actions strike at our core values and tangibly cause harm to the people we serve, our neighbors, and our communities.

And we are still picking up the pieces of the Administration’s abhorrent zero tolerance policy, which led to the forced separation of thousands of children from their parents.  As of today, Heartland Human Care Services (HHCS) is providing shelter to four of the ninety-nine children who had been in our care as a result of the zero tolerance policy.  We continue to do all that we can to reunite all of the children in our shelters with their families, as we strongly believe families belong together. 

We recognize that there is misinformation and confusion about HHCS’s shelter program for unaccompanied minors.  Some believe we should not provide shelter for unaccompanied minors who have entered this country alone, and that we should shut down our shelters altogether.  But how can we turn our backs on children who arrive at our borders alone and afraid, and in search of safety and a better life here in the U.S?  We believe that doing so would serve only to further undermine the immigration system in this country for the very people we were founded to serve. And that in the absence of our doing this work, we would see an increase in the inhumane detention of children and families we so vehemently oppose. 

Heartland Alliance is tackling these issues head-on through policy advocacy, legal and support services, and public education efforts.  And we invite you to join us and hundreds of other organizations across the U.S. to fight against this erosion of rights and to promote the dignity of all people. 

 


Celebrating Summer at Chicago FarmWorks

At Heartland Alliance, we believe in a holistic approach to ending poverty – one that requires access to quality housing, healthcare, jobs, and justice. From the locally grown produce distributed across Chicago at our local food pantries, to the job training and placement programming – our Chicago FarmWorks Urban Farm in East Garfield Park embodies that holistic approach while also bringing communities together.

It’s been a busy summer at the farm. Leaders from corporate and civic life have come together to make the FarmWorks program a hotbed of volunteerism, community activism, and revitalization. As a result, over 500 people have visited the 2-acre farm to help with everything from weeding and plot planning, to planting and tending the crops, and even preparation for harvest time and fall food-pantry logistics. This work simply couldn’t be done without the tremendous help of our individual, corporate, group, and nonprofit partners.

Conagra Brands has generously invested financial resources to help ensure the farm is working at its best capacity to increase access to the healthy, local food that individuals and families need to reach their full potential. With Conagra’s support, FarmWorks has been able to create a drip irrigation system to improve yields; build a greenhouse and other structures to start more seedlings on-site and extend the growing season; and implement a more reliable and robust vegetable transport plan for our partner pantries. Thanks to Conagra, we’ve been able to increase our yield and distribution of additional servings of vegetables for communities experiencing food insecurity. This year alone we will grow and distribute 40,000 servings of food, impacting more than 1,400 Chicagoans.  

It takes a village to create such an impact, and we also couldn’t do this work without other partners like the City of Chicago, the Chicago Community Trust, and Chicago Tribune Charities/McCormick Foundation, as well as hundreds of volunteers from companies like BCG, Aon, Exelon, & Northern Trust. All have contributed hours of labor on the farm itself and invested resources to ensure the continued success of the program.

And most importantly, we couldn’t make these incredible impacts without the support, input, and hard work of the very people we serve. Heartland Alliance participants work the soil of the farm throughout the year, gaining valuable employment experience and education. We work one-on-one with the community in the constant effort to build a more-impactful program and to provide produce that the community most wants to eat. Tomatoes, hot peppers, spinach, lettuce, radishes, mustard greens, collard greens, green beans, onions, potatoes, okra, cucumbers, summer squash – we grow over 20 different types of produce, all recommended by the community itself.  As a result, nearly 80% of our participants reported satisfaction with the quality and variety of the produce they received at our Vital Bridges food pantries.

And you, too, can help make an impact! Throughout the year, the Chicago FarmWorks program has monthly volunteer days where anyone can join in the fun and get their hands dirty. Check out the Heartland Alliance Facebook Page for upcoming events or learn more about FarmWorks here.


Jessica Surma of FarmWorks

With a green thumb and a passion for community building, Jessica Surma creates impact through farming as the manager of our Chicago FarmWorks urban farm. For Jessica, success is all about growth – and she finds it in all aspects of the job.

What got you into this work?

I always knew that I needed to have a job that gave me the opportunity to work outside. Before running FarmWorks, I spent a lot of time working in environmental education and policy. It was great, impactful work, but I my passion was to have a direct impact on my local communities. I grew up around here, and when I learned about urban agriculture – and the impact it has on providing job opportunities, food security, and community engagement opportunities, it was a no-brainer.

I started volunteering at a lot of local farms and gardens and working a lot in food-security – and eventually I jumped at the opportunity to help run 2 acres of urban farmland when Chicago FarmWorks popped up.

Why is this work important to the community? To the people we serve?

I find it is really important to use the space a community already has – whether it be a vacant lot or abandoned building – and transform it and turn it into something positive. FarmWorks serves as an outlet for jobs, food, and a community coming together. That gives people something to be proud of in the neighborhood.

East Garfield Park can get a lot of bad press, and this shows that there is more to this incredible neighborhood than what the papers write about. Similarly, green space gives people the chance to heal, grow, and thrive. It’s incredible seeing people who were down or unwell spend a few hours a day at the farm, and we watch them change dramatically.

On another note, many pantries don’t have a lot of healthy food options. This program was able to provide over 37,000 servings of fresh produce to our Heartland Alliance Vital bridges food pantries across the city.

Was there a moment where you KNEW you were in a job that was right for you? Could you talk about that?

I spent years looking for the job that I wanted – and finding a place that will pay you for your passion is a special thing. I knew pretty early in the job that I was in the right place. We were doing our first honey harvest (we have a few bee colonies), and we had so many folks from the community excited to receive that honey and see the results of our care and work – it was really special.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I love seeing the transformations in people that come to our program – both in their interest in the farm and in their confidence to work. It’s invigorating to see people get excited about growing food and enjoying the life on the farm, as well as finding the confidence to speak with supervisors and employers. It sort of happens all at once, and it really is fulfilling.

How can others help your work?

We’re always looking for volunteers! We’ve got monthly volunteer days. We’re also happy to have corporate, church, or school groups come out. Click here to volunteer.

Learn more about FarmWorks here.