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Cultivating hope at DuPage County Jail

Jun 30 2020

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This June after months of planning and coordinating, Hope’s Garden at the DuPage County Jail is up and growing. Inmates at the jail will tend the garden which will provide fresh food to local food pantries and flowers to victims of domestic violence.

Hope’s Garden was a collaborative effort led by Liz Chaplin, DuPage County Environmental Committee Chair, the DuPage County Sheriff, and JUST of DuPage, and SCARCE. The new garden is located in a former dog run at the Sheriff’s Office campus. There are over 75 tomato and pepper plants as well as herbs and flowers spread across forty above-ground garden pods. The garden is named in memorial of Baby Hope, who was abandoned and found dead in unincorporated Wheaton in 2016.

Hope’s Garden was created as an opportunity for inmates to learn new skills while gaining the therapeutic benefits of working in a garden and helping their community. The hope is that these skills may open opportunities for future employment upon release.

Kay McKeen, SCARCE founder and director, had long envisioned a community garden at the DuPage County Jail as a source of healing and learning for inmates. In 2018, after meeting with County Board member Liz Chaplin and Jim Mendrick, the newly elected Sheriff of DuPage County, she knew the opportunity to make it happen had arrived.

“Sheriff Mendrick and Liz Chaplin have been fantastic champions for this effort. This garden is a great opportunity to teach people at the jail how to grow safe, healthy, local food. Connecting with nature through gardening has so many benefits to mental health – plus the confidence in learning a new skill.” said McKeen.

SCARCE ensured that the garden got started with safe and eco-friendly practices in mind. The garden will be tended without the use of pesticides and, in addition to vegetables, herbs and flowers, there will be a native plant garden to support local pollinators and absorb stormwater. SCARCE also provided five lead-free garden hoses thanks to a grant from the Wheaton Lions Club. Later this fall, SCARCE educator Laura Fanning will be doing a monarch butterfly release and teach inmates about the transformation and long journey these small insects make.

Michael Beary, executive director of JUST of DuPage, praised the Sheriff for installing another vocational and therapeutic program to help inmates battling addiction.

“Anything we can do that includes a therapeutic component to help our inmates, it goes toward our mission of helping inmates overcome the issues that brought them here in the first place,” Beary said. “The therapeutic aspect of gardening and growing things and nurturing things and getting outdoors is so important at this stage.”

Hope’s Garden was a real collaborative effort. Big thanks to our partners Jim Mendrick, DuPage County Sheriff; Liz Chaplin, DuPage County Environmental Committee Chair; and JUST of DuPage especially: Mike Beary, Director; Michelle Morino and Ralph Kolasa for coming together with us to bring this vision to life!

We also want to thank all of the community organizations and people that contributed to this project:

Thank you also to the residents that donated tomato cages to the project.

View Hope’s Garden on WGN News here.

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