Beau Revlett, 18, of Georgetown, is walking through the garden in the side yard of Arbor Youth Services’ emergency shelter on West Third Street, pointing out fledgling tomatoes and peppers as he passes each row.
When he reaches the end closest to the house, he shows off the pride of his garden; a sprawling pumpkin plant with several blooms on its outstretched vines.
“The kids said they really wanted pumpkins so I had to make a spot for them,” Revlett said.
Revlett, an upcoming sophomore at the University of Kentucky, decided to plant an organic garden this spring at Lexington’s only 24-hour emergency shelter for youth after receiving a grant for service projects from the Clinton Global initiative.
He considered what the kids living in the MASH Drop Inn would want to eat but he also planted plenty of tomatoes to sell at farmer’s markets. Residents of the shelter for youth will be manning the market booth in August and keeping the money from sales.
The garden has already produced a few zucchinis and ripening peppers hang from the vine, but Revlett said that just two months ago he didn’t expect the first vegetable.
He wasn’t the only one that had doubts about the project.
When Ginny Vicini, executive director of Arbor Youth Services, received a call early in the spring from someone with a unique idea for connecting with the kids in her care through an organic garden, she said she was interested but apprehensive.
Then she met Revlett and found out he was an 18-year-old philosophy major at UK who had never gardened.
“I was skeptical we would see the first tomato,” Vicini said. “But he seemed so earnest and I didn’t think we had anything to lose by letting him try.”
Revlett was new to gardening but was determined to make his project work.
In October, he had been encouraged by an adviser to apply for a small grant from the Clinton Global Initiative.
Before receiving the $1,100 grant in February, he knew he wanted to develop a project around homelessness since he had previously worked for that cause with other groups.
Although he had never planted vegetables, Revlett had been in charge of watering his dad’s flower garden the previous summer and had been inspired to use gardening in his project.
He had contacted another homeless shelter that served mostly adults with his idea, but after plans fell through he was scrambling to find a use for his grant. It was around this time his roommate suggested he contact a shelter that UK students had volunteered at previously, Arbor Youth Services.
“Originally I wanted to help adults because I thought this could teach them entrepreneurial skills,” Revlett said. “But I realized it would work a lot better with kids because here (Arbor Youth Services), I’m with my peers. I can have a relationship with people.”
The high rate of student homelessness in the state also affected his decision to work with Arbor Youth Services. The Herald-Leader reported last August that Kentucky had more than 30,000 homeless students in 2015 and had the most homeless students per capita in the United States.
When you have a responsibility like this, you have to follow through as best you can. I knew I had to learn how to make this happen.
Beau Revlett, UK sophomore and Arbor Youth Services board member
In early April, he began to pull weeds and work the soil by hand every weekday but had concerns there wouldn’t be a garden until next summer. A garden had been made in the yard by the community garden initiative Seedleaf three years before Revlett’s project but, because of a shortage of volunteers, it had grown into a towering patch of weeds.
“I was intimidated at first but I kept focus on working the soil,” Revlett said. “When you have a responsibility like this, you have to follow through as best you can. I knew I had to learn how to make this happen.”
Revlett, who had been using a hoe, eventually gave in and borrowed a tiller from his girlfriend’s grandfather. The ground was finally ready but he wasn’t able to start planting until mid-May, well past the time he had been told was optimal.
Nearly two months later, he has budding vegetables and a few more helping hands to show for his work.
Vicini said she was used to seeing Revlett in the garden by himself every day but was surprised when she noticed the kids at the house joining in with less labor-intensive chores.
“Gardening isn’t something people think urban kids will do but when you have a young man that is passionate trying to teach, they receive it,” Vicini said.
Arbor Youth Services takes in at-risk young people for anywhere from a couple days to several months. Vicini said she is happy to offer the kids anything that can help them succeed and take their minds off their problems.
When I saw someone coming from the outside, working hard for us, respecting us, it showed he felt we mattered.
Ginny Vicini, executive director of Arbor Youth Services
One resident, Trey, 17, said he loved having a garden at the house and was proud of it. Trey works in the garden with Revlett two or three times a week pulling weeds and checking the ripeness of vegetables.
Revlett tends the garden every weekday with his hoe, the same tool Vicini said he was holding when she asked him to join the board of directors for Arbor Youth Services.
“I was afraid he might give up. I expected a young person to get fed up with doing hard work in the sun,” Vicini said. “When I saw someone coming from the outside, working hard for us, respecting us, it showed he felt we mattered.”