PNC Student Creates Healthy Garden With Valparaiso YMCA

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When Purdue University North Central student Kelly Salyer learned that the Valparaiso Family YMCA longed to have a “Green Thumb” healthy garden that would be the centerpiece of a program to promote children’s healthy eating habits, she dedicated herself to making the garden a reality.
It was an easy decision for Salyer to create the garden as a service learning project for her Child, Family, School & Community Partnerships course. Her commitment was so strong that she applied for and received a Community Service Mini-Grant from Indiana Campus Compact, to help fund the project. Indiana Campus Compact supports higher education’s efforts to develop students into well-informed, engaged citizens. The Lilly Endowment Inc. has generously provided funding for the Indiana Campus Compact Community Service Mini-Grant.

Salyer, an Early Childhood Education major from Westville,  spent hours of her own time to working with Laura Weaver, PNC Service Learning coordinator, and Carla Patino-Davis, Valparaiso Family YMCA Child Care administrative assistant of Child Care, to research, write and fine-tune her grant application.

Her interest in the healthy garden project began when she was a volunteer at the YMCA during the fall semester.  YMCA personnel explained to her that a healthy garden would provide an ideal opportunity for the youngsters for Valparaiso Family YMCA Child Care program to learn how to grow fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers while establishing healthy eating habits.

Planting for the garden began on Earth Day, April 22.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for children to explore and nurture the value of creating green space in their community,” said Bob Wanek, CEO of the Valparaiso Family YMCA. “The Y deeply appreciates the talents of Kelly Salyer in securing this grant.”

Children taking part in various YMCA programs are already looking forward to the garden. Andrew Jackson, a student in the All Day Preschool class, said to his mother Jodi Jackson, “Guess what Mom? My teacher told me we are going to grow vegetables in our garden and we will be able to eat them later!”

A key component of the grant application was for Salyer to recruit student volunteers from other colleges. She has already enlisted support from students at Valparaiso University and Ivy Tech Community College.

The YMCA staff and clients are happily watching the project move forward. Patino-Davis said, “The Y child care department is very grateful for Dr. Mary Jane Eisenhauer (PNC assistant professor of Early Childhood Education), Kelly Salyer, and Laura Weaver for their continuous hard work and dedication to the Valparaiso Family YMCA Child Care Program.  Another big thank you goes to Mark Bluell, Y Team Volunteer Garden Leader, for building the raised garden plots. He will also be providing his knowledge and skills with all of us.”

The PNC Child, Family, School & Community Partnerships course emphasizes the interconnectedness of the different aspects within a child’s world that influence their development. PNC students in this course are required to work with a community agency through a service-learning project to gain first-hand experience interacting with teachers, administrators, child care providers and community members.

At the YMCA, Salyer has served in a child care classroom. Taking on the garden project has given her the opportunity to work with other volunteers and community members.

Interestingly, Salyer was a kindergarten student of Debra Pratt, PNC continuing lecturer of Education, back when Pratt taught at Westville Elementary School.

The Early Childhood Education program at PNC is committed to providing its students with quality service learning opportunities such as the one the Salyer is involved with at the Valparaiso Family YMCA. The commitment to giving back to one’s community can begin anytime and Salyer is helping to foster this commitment in the young children she interacts with.

“We can see the effects of high quality early childhood – Kelly is now enrolled in college and active in her community,” said Eisenhauer, who teaches the Child, Family, School & Community Partnerships course. “When she enrolled in the course, Kelly knew exactly where she wanted to be to fulfill the service-learning requirement: the Valparaiso Family YMCA.