Volunteer Appreciation Week Spotlight: Jakki Parks

The YWCA is celebrating National Volunteer Appreciation Week by honoring some of our most dedicated community allies on our blog!  Jakki Parks is one such volunteer, and we’d like to thank her for all the amazing contributions she has made to the Gettable Edibles program at Family Village Issaquah.  Read Jakki’s story below, and check back each day this week for a new spotlight on one of our many phenomenal volunteers! 

Jakki VoY 2013 with kids

At Seattle University’s Masters in Teaching program, the goal is to educate students so they can go and serve in diverse settings throughout the world. These skills helped me as a teacher at Cougar Ridge Elementary School for ten years. When I recently had a break in my career path, I found myself reflecting on my experience in this program and using those skills to brainstorm a new place to serve.

Then, when I attended an open house for Swedish Hospital in Issaquah, I stopped by the booth for YWCA Family Village Issaquah and their child care partner Bright Horizons. When I heard about the well-organized, enthusiastic and caring group of people who served their community through the YWCA, I was hooked!

I wanted to incorporate a new hobby of mine, edible gardening, with my experience working with children. Maybe I could offer the YWCA a program that made biology fun, where kids learned where food comes from and helped them become more responsible, patient and compassionate? When I proposed the idea to the director of FVI, Degale Cooper, she was receptive and encouraged me to try it out.

We started the Gettable Edibles program in April 2012. Twice a week, the kids who live at Family Village Issaquah learned that they could indeed be gardeners. We sowed seeds on a small a plot on the grounds of FVI and cared for the young plants as they grew, and also grew plants from seeds and starts in small containers. The kids returned to each session with their updates, sometimes victorious and sometimes sad. “My lemon verbena bit the dust!”

The garden helped the kids grow more enthusiastic about science and I made sure our lessons were connected to Issaquah School District standards. I was not surprised when the kids started to noticed not only their own plot, but the rosemary, strawberry and blueberry plants growing around the grounds of FVI. They asked me, “What about those ones, are we going to take care of them?” I replied, “Of course we can.” (…and eat them, I thought to myself!)

I love helping the kids get their hands dirty with projects that make gardening fun and tasty. One of their favorite lessons included learning about any plant that could be made into food that we could eat, where we blended juicy strawberries, fresh chopped mint, fresh-squeezed lemonade and ice to create delicious smoothies. Now, at each one of our meetings, the kids not only ask, “What are we going to grow next?” but also, “What are we going to eat?”

Watching nature’s cycle unfold through the eyes of a child over a year has been a hugely rewarding experience. When I see something happening out in nature or with my plants at home, I am eager to share it with the kids. I am delighted to see their enthusiasm as they explore the fields of science, gardening and food, and nothing makes me feel better than looking at their work and telling them, “You’re a great gardener!”