"BLOOM Where You’re Planted" connects youth of all abilities

Lenawee County youth who step up to mentor young people with disabilities find they are building relationships as well as imparting principles of horticulture through the Michigan 4-H BLOOM Where You're Planted program.

Lenawee County youth who step up to mentor young people with disabilities find they are building relationships as well as imparting principles of horticulture through the Michigan 4-H BLOOM Where You’re Planted program.  4-H teen mentors spend the summer engaging in hands-on learning with individuals with disabilities from across the county.

Designed to integrate youth with disabilities into a positive youth development program, BLOOM laid its roots in 1990 with a W.K. Kellogg Foundation grant. Up until that point, parents of youth with disabilities expressed their disappointment in the lack of programs that promoted their children’s participation in community involvement.

“BLOOM reflects a comprehensive, hands-on educational program,” Janelle Stewart,Michigan State University Extension 4-H educator explained. “We start the summers off by working with youth preparing beds for planting, deciding what type of plants to plant as well as where and when to plant them. The summer continues with knowledge gained about weeding, dead heading and watering the beds. Teamed with this weekly reinforcement is a hands-on horticultural craft activity.”

BLOOM enables youth with disabilities to enter and experience the natural environment without physical barriers as they develop in social settings through one-on-one mentoring with peers. The program teaches them to plant, care for and harvest plots in raised garden beds at Hidden Lake Gardens in Franklin Township, Mich.

“Plants need strong roots, good soil, water, sunshine and a lot of tender loving care in order to grow, blossom and be beautiful from the inside out,” explained Stewart. “Many of these same ingredients are needed by each and every individual, with or without disabilities. The BLOOM Where You’re Planted program offers these essential ingredients to the youth who participate.”

Stewart added that the young people experience the confidence of completing a project and the knowledge of using the environment for craft projects.

“Each week, the expression on the face of the young people measures the self-esteem, confidence and joy they experience in accomplishing the day’s task,” said Stewart.

Furthermore, the program aims to raise the level of knowledge, appreciation and comfort levels of youth without disabilities toward youth with disabilities, breaking down mental and emotional barriers as it builds relationships. “By the end of the summer, both sets of youth have established relationships on many different levels,” Stewart notes.

She described the most basic level of growth in 4-H mentors as having a better understanding and greater level of comfort with youth different from them to a higher level of growth seen in some mentors’ efforts to maintain friendships with the youth they spent the summer mentoring.

Having realized that communities are made of diverse yet equally important and valuable people, Michigan 4-H youth in Lenawee County work to foster and maintain relationships with their peers who may struggle to engage in the community in some ways. 4-H youth not only learn horticulture principles and practices through the program – they also learn what it means to step outside of their comfort zones and find friends in places they may not have thought to look.

“BLOOM is a program that integrates youth with disabilities, youth without disabilities and environmental education opportunities; in the program, nontraditional combinations and creative possibilities exist in a positive and enthusiastic environment,” Stewart concluded. “This program has been strong, long-lasting and is a nationally known model for mentoring programs."

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