By Jaelyn Rainwater, DPS Summer Intern, Equity and Engagement Division
It’s amazing how something as small as a garden plot can support and bring together an entire community, especially during recent events with COVID-19. The Family and Community Engagement Center gardens at Johnson Elementary does exactly that.
This center is one of two that are supported by DPS, with the other located at John H. Amesse Elementary. The FACE Centers connect students and families within our community to increase their economic self-sufficiency and academic success through free services and classes.
This program and the garden are more important than ever before. Now, with COVID-19, it not only supports families that are struggling with food insecurity, but also shows how a community of friends, families, and DPS staff can come together as one and make an impact to get through such a difficult time together.
“The school and the FACE Center program has been one of the greatest things during this difficult time,” said FACE Center participant Rosa Lopez.
Rosa’s story is an example of just how much the FACE Center can mean to someone. Rosa lives near Johnson Elementary school and works at a hospital taking food to people that were hospitalized. She was infected with COVID-19 because of her work and had to go to the emergency room twice, and was all alone during that time. She would have lost her apartment if not for help from the school and FACE Center because she would not have been able to pay the rent.
“All the support I received was directly a result of my work at the FACE Center of the school, there have been various programs that have helped me pay for rent,” Rosa said. Rosa also volunteers in the garden with her children three times a week, regularly receives produce from the garden, as well as a stipend through Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) for her support.
The garden, located at Johnson, is managed by the FACE Center in collaboration with Denver Urban Gardens (DUG). DUG not only provides access to free plants, seeds, and supplies, but also a grant to provide stipends to parent volunteers, like Rosa, who care for the garden. The FACE Center shared all the produce that was grown with their local community. In total, the program has provided more than 120 bags of produce to families in the community who are facing food insecurity this year.
The FACE Center moved to Johnson Elementary school two years ago and will be starting their 3rd year at that location. Originally, nobody was really using the garden due to the time commitment and organization over the summer months. Denver Urban Gardens makes it so FACE Center is able to have a location for the garden as well as donate supplies such as tools, soil, and seeds.
The FACE Center has staff members that have incredible impacts on a daily basis in the lives of the families with tangible impacts that help families stay in their homes, access food, helping them pay their past due bills, and even mental health therapists which have become important during the COVID-19 pandemic. As well as programs that support families in obtaining self-sufficiency with ESL classes GED classes and financial coaching. Being able to support the families in their communities through that process is one of the best feelings of working in this program.
Lindsey Hazel, a manager at FACE who has been working there for 5 years, said she always knew that she wanted to work in education even though her background was in community development work. She is very passionate about the connection between an adults’ stability in the household and the success of the students.
“There are so many direct correlations to whether a family has reached a certain level of self-sufficiency and whether their child does well in school,” Lindsey said. “It’s been really fantastic to be involved in the community, and I just really love the families that we work with.”
The FACE Centers garden continues to feed and provide for the community during the pandemic while giving opportunities for families to be able to get out to give back and keep themselves busy during this time.
“The school and the FACE Center program has been one of the greatest things during this difficult time,” Rosa said.