Growing Home @ Wood Street

Iron Street provided one model that is really interesting because it unites youth programming with food production, processing, preparation, and distribution.  There is a lot to learn from Iron Street and consider about what resonates and what doesn’t for Weinland Park.

One of the themes voiced repeatedly at the Community Engagement meeting on July 19th was the need for jobs. Youth programming like that at Iron Street is critical to providing basic experiences, such as working in teams, communicating, seeking solutions, and being proactive, that form skills necessary for employment.

At the same time, examples of programs that focused on workforce development, specifically those that provided experience to adults are critical.   So, the team from Knowlton School of Architecture and guest representatives from 4th Street Farms headed over to Growing Home located in the Englewood neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago.

Growing Home has several scattered sites, including Wood Street (pictured above), which provide transitional employment and training for individuals in Chicago facing multiple barriers to securing permanent and unsubsidized employment.  At Wood Street, we again saw how social enterprise based on organic agriculture could be used a tool to empower people and provide hope.   

Transitional employment helps people get back on their feet.  According to the National Transitional Jobs Network Transitional employment programs  “offer a model of employment by which participants learn through experience the customs and routines of work, acquire work-task skills, establish an employment record, and generate employer references to enhance their competitiveness in private sector employment.”[1]

These jobs are usually designed for individuals with one or more barriers to employment.  Some of the most significant barriers to employment that Growing Home’s program helps individuals address are:

  •  Need for adult basic education and/or formal education credentials (i.e. high school diploma,GED, vocational certificates, college degree etc.)
  •   Large gaps in employment history/long term unemployment
  •   Housing instability
  •   History of substance abuse
  •   Criminal record
  •   Health problems
  •   Need for supportive services

A period of employment allows participants to plan and prepare for their transition into the unsubsidized workforce. Growing Home assists participants by providing training, work focused case management, links to employers, and placement and retention services.  Finally, referrals are made to competent agencies that provide ABE, GED, housing, legal aid, and human services.

Since its inception, Growing Home has worked towards providing transitional job programs that lets previously-incarcerated and previously-homeless individuals prepare to re-enter the workforce not only by teaching job skills, but also by providing the chance to engage in what is for many a transformational experience. Their program is different from other workforce development programs because of the intense focus on the transformational possibilities inherent in learning to nurture and grow one’s own food.

We learned a great deal from visiting Growing Home on Wood Street and have even more to consider about what may work about this program and what may not in Weinland Park. 

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