Part I: By University of Delaware Alternative Break Students
After only two days on site, we already feel so connected and fully immersed in GreenHouse17. Any anxieties we felt were put to rest as soon as we were welcomed by the staff, particularly Jessica and Christina, and their evident concern for our overall experience has made us even more inclined to give it our all. They have inspired us to maximize our efforts, in order to extend their impact on domestic violence.
Although our team comes from different majors and backgrounds, the agency’s work with survivors has given us a common goal to educate and empower ourselves and others about this widespread issue. In just two days’ time, we have seen a few examples of how the agency’s passion and drive is making a difference. First, as we were working alongside one of the survivors, she shared with us how she recently earned a job outside of the shelter. A valuable resource available to all clients of is the resume-building skill sets that they can develop during their stay. Another accomplishment we witnessed was the acquiring of a contract with a local florist, who is excited to purchase the flowers grown on the farm. Seeing these positive strides forward have made us feel grateful to collaborate with this nonprofit on such a meaningful issue.
At our orientation on the first day, minutes before heading out to shovel piles of steaming compost, Jessica shared a comical yet moving metaphor. She tied the struggles that survivors face to the work being done on the farm, saying that it’s like “taking something sh*tty and turning it into a foundation for something beautiful.” Two days in, with three days left, our team is excited to open the eyes of others about domestic violence, just as our eyes were opened here.
Part II: By Northwestern University Alternative Breaks Students
The first day at GreenHouse17, our group of twelve was looking forward to helping out on the farm and learning more about domestic violence, an issue we were not too familiar with because we think college campuses seem to skip over this discussion.
During our week here, we not only worked on the farm and helped speed up projects like distributing compost, weeding, planting, and seeding, but also experienced the empowerment that a place like this encourages and learned multitudes about domestic violence and how this shelter differs from others in powerful ways.
Our group came together through Northwestern University’s Alternative Student Breaks, which gives students the opportunity to spend their vacations serving and connecting with people and organizations around the country working to combat prevalent social issues. We chose to spend our spring breaks in Kentucky, six hours away from home in Evanston, IL, instead of taking a “typical spring break” because we share a passion for community service and service learning.
As a group, we reflected on how having the opportunity to work on the farm with some of the women from the shelter has allowed us to experience the healing effects of surrounding yourself with nature and putting your energy toward manual labor. Farming encouraged us to work with people toward something so simple yet so important, to get outside and to be strong and independent, and it also allowed us a healthy amount of time to meditate on our own life stories.
“We’ve gotten to experience the actual effect of working out here and how this helps the women who come here. At least for me I’ve definitely experienced some healing of my own, working here after our quarter ended with exams and things,” said Jessie Baloga, a senior at Northwestern and one of our two ASB site leaders.
While we spent most of our time working with the earth, we learned about the healing process that this shelter harvests by experiencing a level of it ourselves through farming. Touring the shelter and talking with the workers and some of the women currently living here has exposed us more clearly to the issue of domestic violence and the idea of encouraging growth, healing, and learning, not just security and safety for a period of time.
We have learned that the issue is a lot more complex than it originally appears, but the women here are strong, the workers are compassionate, and the farm is a beautiful oasis.