INDIANAPOLIS — On the edge of Damar Services Therapeutic Campus on Indy's southwest side is a garden full of fresh produce. The strawberries and melons are grown with the help of students led by registered dietitian Kathy Tierney.
"Our garden started about 10 or 11 years ago by one of our teachers who grew up on a farm. Her classroom of young boys, she realized did not know where food came from. They thought it came from the store wrapped in plastic," Tierney said.
She got involved doing food mystery classes with the students and quickly noticed the excitement on their faces when she would chop of vegetables and have the kids guess what they were. She found they were very eager to learn about the food and even try it out.
When the teacher who started the garden left Damar, Tierney fought to keep the garden going.
"My boss and I decided that we can't let this program die because kids need this," Tierney said.
Not only is the garden a place where they grow lettuce that is used in the cafeteria or other vegetables kids learn to cook with in the classroom. but it's a place used for therapy.
"We have a lot of kids with a lot of struggles. I'll be out here working and will notice a behavioral clinician come out with a child who probably had a garden at home and remembers gardening with grandma and they just really love to be out here," she said.
Damar Services helps clients facing developmental and behavioral challenges build a better future. At their main campus on Decatur Boulevard, 193 clients ages six to 21 receive 24-hour care.
"I have bad aggression. I got in an altercation when I was at home and I got some help. That's when I came to Damar Services," Tate, 18, said.
July 4 will mark four years of staying at Damar Services for Tate.
"I'm in a much better spot because I'm coping with stuff, using coping skills when I need to and listening to staff when they say don't worry about it, just walk away. I've been doing much better with that," he said.
"The thing we really had to help Tate out with is how to harvest all that energy and put it to good use. That's the constant challenge is making sure he's using all of his energy in a positive way, Damar Services teacher Brett Wampler said. "I think he's able with all the coping skills he's been taught here has really been able to thrive in situations where when he came to us he would've struggled with at first."
Over the last few years, Tate has spent time out in the garden at Damar Services. This year, they are doing a big redesign in effort to make it more secure. Tierney told staff she needed some help and couldn't do it alone.
"The first day I was out here I knew Mr. Brett was going to bring somebody out here to help me. When I saw Tate coming I was really glad because I know Tate. He's a very competitive athlete, he's someone when he puts his mind to it he's going to give it everything he has. He has not disappointed," Tierney said.
Tate now has a paying job in the garden using all of his time and energy in a positive way as they prepare the garden for the season.
"It's helping me out a lot because sometimes I'm not very confident since I'm back here, I think I can build more confidence as it goes because I listen real good with instructions," Tate said. "I just like to come out here to help and it makes me happy when I help her because I know she can't do it by herself."
For Tierney, the part she enjoys most, even more than seeing kids eat healthy food, is the fact that they come out and relax in the garden and are at peace.
"Just knowing how difficult it is for them, seeing some of the kids and knowing their struggles to see them come out here and have such a good positive experience. People like Tate, he just shines out here, just shines. He is such a great worker," Tierney said.
Tate's goal is to eventually move out of Damar Services into a group home. He says the skills he's learning here will help him reach that goal one day.