Seeds of Hope
A Small Garden Becomes a Big Deal
SASO volunteers show off the fruits of their labor working in the Homes for the Brave garden last summer.
Imagine a patch of land that had been simply dubbed “The Garden.” Over the years it had been inconsistently tended, with little effort when it was. This area of soil and plants was located at a transitional housing facility for homeless men, so even though some residents may have enjoyed gardening, once they left, it would sit idle, waiting for someone new to care for it, fighting weeds and not fulfilling its full potential.
This is a true story but not a sad one because due to an outpouring of enthusiasm and support from Fairfield people of all ages, and businesses, the garden is now thriving at Bridgeport’s Homes for the Brave, a nonprofit organization that assists veterans in securing employment and permanent housing.
The Garden Project started last spring when some of the residents asked Kathy Beardsworth, director of communications and outreach at Homes for the Brave, to plant vegetables in order to eat a little healthier.
Upon hearing this, Beardworth’s ears perked up—she is a passionate supporter of veterans and their interests. The dilemma, however, was that her focus had to be on raising funds to keep the organization running smoothly while others on staff helped secure steady jobs and settle residents into permanent homes. The level of excitement for a garden, however, made her believe that this could offer the residents a life skills opportunity for both growing and cooking their own healthy food.
After securing donations, the residents got to work, and by the summer, there were ripe tomatoes and fresh basil for salads, along with watermelon and collard greens. Soon after, however, those original gardeners found jobs and permanent housing, and subsequently left Homes for the Brave. “It’s exactly what we want them to do,” says Beardsworth, “but it left our small garden overgrown and uncared for again,” noting that the challenge now would be to keep a community garden operating permanently in an environment where permanence was not the intention. After all, Homes for the Brave was in the business of helping their residents reestablish their independence, not stay.
That’s where Fairfield’s SASO organization jumped in. Short for Scholars & Athletes Serving Others, SASO is a voluntary group of high school teens and their mothers assisting surrounding communities. At the same time that Beardsworth was scratching her head about how to keep the garden going, Debbie Stapleton, co-president of SASO Boys—Fairfield Chapter, reached out to Homes for the Brave to learn how their group could help with some sort of project. Beardsworth was thrilled, and thought The Garden Project could be perfect for the boys. In addition, she had several companies, groups and individuals who wanted to donate time, talent and plants, so the task to create a real, permanent garden began.
Gretchen Patterson and Mandy Barber, SASO co-chairs for the project, managed the scheduling of teams each week. Fairfield businesses also jumped in to help with the garden as well as the entire grounds. Home Depot, as part of its veterans program, helped secure a grant to fund items that were needed and installed new garden beds. Oliver’s Nursery donated plants and materials and Stopa Landscaping donated design time, labor, and soil. SASO worked alongside the residents to weed the beds, plant new seedlings, and harvest the fruits and vegetables. Beardsworth was overwhelmed with the support and dedication that the group gave to the garden.
“Not only did they come weekly to work on the garden but they also prepared and served meals to our residents,” says Beardsworth. “The SASO boys were key in maintaining a consistency for the garden. Before their arrival, watering and planting was spotty. But they took over the watering and tending—which made the garden more productive.” The residents were thrilled to work side by side with the boys and “get their hands dirty.”
Planting something and then having faith that it will bear fruit couldn’t be a better metaphor for a place like Homes for the Brave. It turns out that these are perfect ingredients for a powerhouse of optimism. And, for the Fairfield volunteers, serving those who have served our nation, turns out to be its own kind of special harvest.