The seven teens, participants in the Walker County Youth Advocate Program, transformed signage at the Equines Assisting Special Needs Individuals facility into a flower bed. Jessica Miles, administrative manager of Walker County YAP said the youth pulled up weeds, dug holes and planted shrubs and flowers.
Walker County YAP was created in November 2011 and works with youth that are in the juvenile justice system. Miles said the group strives to remove the typical negative stereotypes that are given to the children in the program.
“We feel like if we can change their label, we can change behavior,” she said.
The flower bed project isn’t the first time Walker County YAP and EASI have worked together. YAP participants volunteer weekly at the therapeutic horse riding facility. The youth, ranging from 12 to 17 years old assist with grooming, tacking and feeding the horses. Members of the group have also been trained to be “side walkers” or “spotters” for the horses and whomever may be riding.
“It is truly amazing how the EASI program can benefit special needs individuals, and even more amazing to see our once troubled youth when their face lights up the moment they realize how much they mean to the participants of the EASI program,” Miles said. “When YAP youth witness the difference they make in the lives of these special needs individuals, it gives them a sense of importance and worthiness.”
Jimmy Meadows, a 17-year-old from Carbon Hill, said he has enjoyed his time volunteering with EASI.
“When you see one of these children on the horse, you just feel like a million bucks,” he said. “Planting the flower bed today is symbolic for me. The annual flowers will be here while we are here, but some of the flowers will come back, and they can tell people who did this.”
Home Depot and 4 Seasons Garden Center donated materials and flowers for Friday’s project, Miles said. The flower bed was scheduled for Earth Day, but Nikki Barton, a 16-year-old YAP youth from Carbon Hill, said it was also a part of a “Give Back Challenge” that YAP groups across the country were doing for National Volunteer Week (April 15-21).
“We love helping out here at EASI,” Barton said. “I feel like I make a difference here. When we heard about the ‘Give Back Challenge,’ we knew we wanted to use it to do something for EASI, because this place means so much to all of us.”
Melissa Searcy, a representative from EASI, said the YAP youth have been great volunteers.
“They have helped so much,” she said. “We appreciate everything they do for us, and we are thankful that we can play a positive role in their lives as well.”