We headed back to Lithia, FL to visit the girls at Steppin’ Stone Farm for the second time this year. In total there were fourteen of us, nine students and five adults for this trip. On the bus trip out everyone was excited because Steppin’ Stone Farm is one of our favorite sites. We try to get out once a quarter and over time have come to know the girls and develop some relationships. Matt, one of our students from Madison, has a particular fondness for this place and all the girls remember him and greet him with smiles and special cheers. Of course, they were glad to see all of us, and we were all greeted enthusiastically, mostly because of the job they had in store for us!
We have spent most of our trips helping out with the cash crops in their green house. The girls took their ornamental grasses to the Strawberry Festival to sell for funds to support scholarships. We all have a sense of ownership over the crops because of all the work we’ve helped with and expected to begin readying the crops for next year’s festival. But this trip was a little different. We were met with several HUGE piles of mulch and the assignment to spread the mulch to cover the roads within the complex. The mulch was dumped courtesy of the power company who was trimming and mulching trees among the rural roads of Lithia.
It was a hot May day, sun was shining brightly and we set to work immediately. Because we visit so often, we sort of know the ropes. The staff at Steppin’ Stone Farm had lined up all of our tools, including a long row of wheelbarrows to haul, haul, haul!! We separated into two groups right away, and headed to two of the four piles of mulch.
Manned with pitch forks, rakes and shovels we began to tackle our respective piles with gusto! Several students, and Dave our bus driver and big man extraordinaire began pitch forking mulch into the wheelbarrows, which were wheeled to the appointed spreaders in both groups who raked the mulch onto the row. It took us about an hour to take the mulch pile down and spread it on the road. A bunch of girlsl came to help us about 45 minutes into it and the work went even faster.
The second group moved onto the second pile as the first started to dwindle down and had a good head start once the groups joined together. The work was hard, and the sun was hot, but all hands continued to work through like absolute pros! Fortunately the staff had brought out water to keep us all hydrated, and we took breaks in shifts so that the work progressed fairly continually. By the time we had finished with the last pile our white GET REAL Involved! shirts were considerably less white! Everyone was pretty beat, but we all felt satisfied by the progress we had made.
After the mulch was spread we headed off for our favorite part of our trips to Steppin’ Stone Farm: LUNCH! Lunch time is a great time to spend time with the girls. We all sit at eight-top tables, members of the GET REAL Involved! crew intermingled with the girls from the Farm and we catch up and have great conversations. We are all so amazed by these girls who are going through a tough time in their life, but who express such hope and determination. And the food is always so good. This trip the meal was something called “Cheese Burger Casserole” and all we had to say was YUM-MY!
Several of the girls are “graduating” the Farm this month. Some will actually graduate High School after completing their studies on the Farm and others have progressed far enough that they are leaving the Farm “recommended” and will go home and integrate back into the “real world.” This is an exciting and scary times for these girls, but as we listened to one soon-to-be graduate talking about how she is going to pursue her engineering degree we knew that the Farm has prepared the girls who are leaving to enter life with a renewed outlook! We heard from some of the other girls who are staying how they are planning to make specific progress to insure they are ready to re-enter the world as well. Their determination and drive is inspiring because its clear that they are relying on skills and confidence they learned on the Farm to make plans for a brighter future.
On the bus ride back we talked about our day and how spending time with these inspiring girls and all the hard work made us feel. The one thing that came through loud and clear was that the mulching assignment was a big hit. The students felt that the assignment, because it had a beginning, middle and end, made them feel like they really accomplished something. And that because the girls would have had to spend probably the next few weeks getting the job done in between studies and chores, that we really made a difference in their lives by being there.
Thoughts of the experience of being on the Farm for the residents was another thing that stood out for the students. They thought about the fact that these girls were on the Farm because someone cared enough to intervene and send them to a place where they could re-group and get a new start. But they also talked about the fact that while it’s exciting that these girls have the opportunity to start over they appreciated the fact that these girls were obviously “stepping up” to do the work required to achieve their new goals. The final thought that the GET REAL Involved! students learned from the girls on the Farm was that when faced with a problem, sometimes it’s best to separate yourself from that problem to give yourself a chance to learn how best to deal with it. A good lesson for us all!
If you’d like to see more photos from this Steppin’ Stone Farm project, visit our Facebook Fan Page. And feel free to leave a comment below! Next trip is a Thursday trip now that school is out. We’re heading to Bayshore Pointe Nursing Home on Gandy Boulevard. If you’d like to register for the trip, click here. This summer we have organized trips on three Thursdays. Each of them will also provide the opportunity to spend the second half of the day doing something fun with our host Hyde Park United Methodist Youth Ministry. On the 11th they will be heading to bowling at Pinorama.