It genuinely shocks me what some people have to go through so early on in life. Honestly, growing up in a stable home can make it difficult to truly understand others’ hardships. What do you do to help? How do you even know what to say? These questions might flood your mind when you learn that your friend or partner went through difficult times during their younger years. It’s tough just to comprehend.
Growing Change may not be able to erase the trauma, lack of stability, financial hardship, or poor upbringing youth have gone through. However, what they have done was come up with a great way to assist young men who are at risk of being behind bars or are jobless and/or wounded after being deployed as a veteran.
In an effort to help, the non-profit converted an old, unused prison into a Wagram, North Carolina farm where the young men and veterans can learn various farming and general life skills, receive clinical therapy, and fulfill community service hours if applicable. Keeping youth out of the criminal justice system is especially crucial in the state of North Carolina.
“North Carolina is one of the last two states in which youth are adjudicated as adults for all charges at age 16,” Founder Noran Sanford said. “By the time some 16 year-olds arrive in the courts, they are permanently limited in their employment due to their ‘adult’ criminal record.”
Since 2016, Growing Change has been working hard to reintegrate troubled youth into society. Through plenty of effort, Sanford has been able to lower the recidivism rate by 92%. Youth range from those dealing with substance abuse to those struggling with their mental health.
Sanford has great hope for the program.
“At the core level, we are instilling hope,” Sanford said. “When hope is gone, it creates a pretty vicious void that a lot of other grimmer things can get pulled into. And as low-wealth rural America is left further behind, then that vacuum is stronger. We’re breaking that stream.”
While participants who have gone on an alternative path in life are learning to get back on track, the veterans who have been making use of the program are on their way to earning university degrees in agriculture thanks to the farm-converted prison.
No matter the reason they’re apart of the program or what has occurred in their life, the young men get the opportunity to care for animals, grow crops (which are later sold to local restaurants), and even cook in the old prison’s kitchen to gain cooking and food preservation skills.
What a great program! Watch the video below to learn more.