Recently, the center joined 27, 10- to 15-year-old members of the Hands of Christ After School & Community Care Program at Douglas Street United Methodist Church to begin a garden on the church's campus, teaching the teens and pre-teens the basics of maintaining a garden as well as life skills.
Scott Sherwin, a youth educator with the Bartow Teen Center, explained the program is called "R.A.M.S." which stands for "Rising Above My Situation."
"One of the main points [of R.A.M.S.] is responsibility," Sherwin said. "When the kids signed up for the program they knew there was responsibility that goes now and all the way to the summer with the harvesting, watering and weeding and keeping a garden journal."
Sherwin said there were raised flower beds behind the church that had not been utilized, so he approached the church to see if the teen center could make use of the beds with church youth.
He said the activity of gardening ties in with other facets of student life.
"The goal is to incorporate the garden with some of the other lessons [youth] are learning in their science classes at school and [teen center] workshops," Sherwin said.
The teen center recently held "Leadership through Life Skills" workshops at South Central Middle School where students participating in the life skills workshops learned lessons in character building with a focus on making wise decisions.
Sherwin said youth have "had a lot of fun" participating in the gardening project.
"The [reaction] to the garden has been real positive," Sherwin said. "[The students'] attitudes are great, they're excited and willing to get in there and get dirty, and of course with a hose, watering can be a lot of fun."
The garden includes strawberries, corn, peppers and tomatoes, which Sherwin said will be used later to make salsa based on individual family recipes.
Eleven-year-old Eric Cruz said he had experience working in a garden with his grandfather when he was younger, and was excited about the project.
"We've been watering the gardens, taking care of the weeds, planting and having fun with it," Cruz said. He added, "[The garden] helps us grow stuff and it might even help us in science somehow because we're going to have to deal with plants someday."
Ana Perdomo is 15 years old and said this was her first experience working in a garden.
"I basically learned the steps to make something grow, and it's a lot harder than it looks," Perdomo said.
She said although she stays busy with after school sports, gardening has its benefits.
"[The project] helps keep your mind off things," Perdomo said.
Sherwin and fellow teen center youth educator Cindy Smith said they want more activities this summer at the physical location of the youth center. They said the facility currently operates by appointment or by class.
"For us it's really about educating the youth on health related issues and beyond health related issues because it all ties back," Sherwin said. "A lot of it is life skills."
Smith said the center is reaching out to the community through character education in schools and even this summer through the Bartow County Recreation Department's Summer Day Camp at Hamilton Crossing.
She said the center has a strong focus on students graduating from high school and would eventually like to provide career education opportunities.
"We'll do whatever we can to help a child stay in school," Smith said. "It may mean walking [a child] through rehab, it may mean walking them through a teen pregnancy, whatever we have to do to walk with them, we want them to stay in school."
She said the center will be serving daily lunches this summer at noon for teens and will be offering the six-week "Leadership through Life Skills" workshops beginning June 10. Registration is required.
She said the center provides supplemental resources for teens and parents alike.
"The most important thing for a teen to know [about the center] is it's a safe place to ask difficult questions, and it's also a safe place to learn how to learn positive character education," Smith said. "I would love for the parents in our community to realize there is a place for not only teens, but for [parents] if they have questions. Let's say a parent wants to do the 'birds and the bees' with their children and they don't know where to get the material, how to do it, they're nervous, but they can come to the teen center and we'll help them out, we'll walk them through it because really the parent is the best advocate for the child."
For middle school youth to register for the "Leadership through Life Skills" workshops in June, call Sherwin at 678-721-5922. High school youth can register by calling Smith at 770-262-5484.
The Bartow Teen Center is part of Northwest Georgia Public Health.