The Power of Opportunity
Two community grants from the Unrestricted Fund enabled Westminster Community Center to offer new opportunities for people to become more self-sufficient through learning key life skills. The first grant for a community garden fosters the age-old skill of gardening to produce edible vegetables and fruits. Whereas, the second grant for a computer lab develops computer literacy as a skill that has become increasingly more important in the last 40 years.
A spring grant from the community foundation provided $2,000 to fund a community garden with major items including raised beds, fencing, wheelbarrow, hoses, hand tools and a tiller. Westminster Executive Director Jeff Kundert stated, “The Henry County Community Foundation built a foundation for us to be able to build on and expand our program to provide other learning opportunities.” He continued, “Westminster is seeing new faces… people who have never had to seek out programs of support before. Persons who are now laid off and in the past had very stable environments are now coming to the center out of financial need.” Clients say to Kundert, “I don’t want to be here, but the money I am receiving is not stretching to the level that allows me to cover my bills and put food on the table for my family.”
In response to this growing dilemma, the community garden was started on the property owned by the Westminster Community Center in the Belmont neighborhood of New Castle. According to their model, five beds were planted by five families in Belmont, another five beds and one large bed were planted and produced fresh green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, pumpkins and cucumbers for the food pantry. Garden Coordinator Bart Pederson helped participants plan, prepare the soil, plant the vegetable seeds and plants, care for and maintain their garden space, while Emily Becker of the Purdue Extension Office helped them understand how to effectively prepare meals from their harvest to feed their families.
With the seed money secured from the Henry County Community Foundation, this pilot program was a success for neighborhood families and for Westminster’s Food Pantry, which provided credibility in securing other grants to support the program. There was a student portion of the garden project, which Emily Becker taught to two 3rd grade classes at Parker Elementary. According to Kundert, “We will try to expand using a $500 grant received from Home Depot through the National Gardener’s Association. Fortunately, Denney’s Greenhouse agreed to donate plants again.” The plan is to have a second garden at Parker Elementary and to start a ‘garden club’ at Eastwood Elementary for grades 3-6, starting with the older grades to give students the gardening experience before they leave elementary school. They hope kids will stay involved during the summer as well and plant cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce.
The role of computers has greatly increased over the years and as a result a fall grant for $2,480 was approved to help fund a computer lab at Westminster. Ten computers and a projector are in place. Westminster is working to secure a person to teach basic to more complex classes for their clients. Lessons to help clients learn to get onto the internet, gain access to applications and availability to social services are all objectives. Kundert stated, “A lot of seniors are fearful of computers and are unsure how to control the mouse and navigate from one step to another. These lessons will allow development at the client’s pace, helping them feel confident on the computer.”
The Grants Committee volunteers evaluate grant requests based on ever-changing needs and try to help where the benefits to the community and its citizens are most substantial. They recognize that the computer is now a powerful resource; and computer literacy is an everyday skill needed to obtain information, access assistance programs, find employment and empower people of all ages. Through these community grants, Westminster now provides clients opportunities to develop two valuable life skills.