DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Taking care of ‘us’: It’s a matter of time

A QUESTION THAT has me thinking lately: When we talk about this community, who is “us”? Who are the ones we believe belong here, sharing this place?

For those who work at The Answer for Youth — TAFY — “us” is our fellow man, woman and child. And yes, “us” includes the “them” we see on our streets: people who tried heroin and got hooked, who are homeless after Mom or Dad kicked them out — or who fled “home” because of a parent who would not stop hurting them.

Susan Hillgren is director of TAFY, Port Angeles’ center for homeless and struggling teenagers and young adults. She works with volunteers such as Betsy Wharton, a nurse, gardener, cooking teacher and business owner, as well as a monthly cooking columnist for the Peninsula Daily News. Wharton is part of the unsung cadre who keep the center and its new greenhouse open at 826 E. First St.

“Volunteers are at TAFY because they believe, unequivocally, they can make a difference in a life just by showing up and caring,” Hillgren told me.

In Wharton’s case, showing up means working in the Sprouting Hope greenhouse: growing vegetables, cooking suppers on-site with those veggies and meeting people where they are on this winding path of life.

Rather than teach scheduled gardening and cooking classes, Wharton gets straight to work. When it feels right, she’ll ask a young person who happens to be there to help with a task.

“We have some 1:1 time together, with our hands in the dirt,” she wrote in an email, “or in preparing something delicious for the dinners.

“Here is what we grew this year: lettuce, radishes, carrots, snap peas, green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, winter squash, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cucumber, onions, potatoes.”

Yet to grow: a better greenhouse. An expanded nursery operation can produce an organic funding stream for TAFY, which, notes Hillgren, will help pay the mortgage and some operating expenses. It’ll lighten the burden of seeking grant after grant to keep the doors open.

This business of Sprouting Hope, of running a greenhouse while addressing homelessness and addiction — it’s “big stuff, and we will absolutely need community support for success,” said Wharton.

Support means donations — and shoppers who come in to buy produce at the greenhouse.

TAFY will have a traditional fundraiser, a dinner and program at the Vern Burton Community Center, 308 E. Fourth St., Port Angeles, on Wednesday, Nov. 29. You can purchase your $40 seat at brownpapertickets.com. Check TheAnswer4Youth.org for details.

But one evening is just a start. Like the flowers and veggies, the volunteers and clients at TAFY will survive and thrive on continued attention — as in contributions and gift-buying during and beyond the season.

I asked Hillgren about her hopes for 2018.

“We want to better serve the clients we already have,” especially those struggling with addiction or mental health, “by finding mentors to spend time … help them discover their own gifts and strengths,” she said. TAFY’s Grow and Go gardening program could use more participants; it’s proven to be a catalyst for healing. Yet none of this is fast or easy.

Many of the folks who started coming to TAFY when it opened eight years ago are today clean, sober and employed, Hillgren said, adding that these include “awesome parents,” the kind who “know how to reach out and ask for help when the situation arises.”

Wherever these folks are on their paths, they’re our neighbors. They’re part of us.

________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Angeles.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Dec. 6.

Reach her at Creodepaz@yahoo.com.

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