LOVELAND, Colo. (CBS4) – In Colorado, there are about 85,000 people who live with developmental disabilities. The state and federal government spends more than $624 million on services for them a year. The goal is to include those people in society, integrating them into the workplace and helping them be productive.

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Loveland Youth Gardeners is among the programs working with at-risk youth to give them important life skills.

“The mission of Loveland Youth Gardeners is to cultivate job skills and life skills, environmental stewardship, and service in youth facing barriers to success, by building healthy relationships with people, community, and the environment,” said Heather Anderson, Executive Director of Loveland Youth Gardeners.

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Loveland Youth Gardeners has four programs. Three of them take place during the summer months, and the community outreach program runs year round.

“With our Youth Gardening program, they each have their own gardens. They choose what they want to plant, within the parameters of what’s going to be successful for them. They begin the planting in May, then they maintain their gardens. They water, they weed, and then they harvest,” Anderson explained.

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In the Leaf Out program, seasoned gardeners work in a commercial garden growing food that is sold to restaurants, at farmers markets or donated to food banks. The Enterprise Internship program allows the teens to work with the City of Loveland maintaining the flower pots along 4th Street. With each program, the youth learn more sophisticated gardening skills and prepare for their future.

“Not only teaching them job skills for future employment, but also about community service, about taking care of themselves, about self-care, about nutrition, about ways to work through situations in their lives, so we really focus on a lot of different areas to make a well rounded program,” Anderson told CBS4.

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“We were just harvesting basil,” said Marcus, one of the gardeners in the Leaf Out program. “Here’s a tip, basil is a really tall plant. It’s really fresh, and it also smells strong too.”

Marcus is proud of his gardening skills, but he’s also proud of all the other things he’s learned through Loveland Youth Gardeners.

“I feel happy, and I feel also a lot of things that I’m going to learn are going to be useful for my everyday life,” Marcus told CBS4.

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Matt has worked with Loveland Youth Gardeners for 4-years. He’s currently in the Enterprise Internship program, helping to grow pumpkins that will be used to decorate the City during the fall.

“It makes me feel like I’m part of a bigger whole. It just makes me feel really good,” Matt said.

Eventually, he hopes to work in forestry. Right now, he’s working on a forestry degree at Front Range Community College.

“Our goal is to see them succeed in life,” Anderson added.

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At the end of the day, these gardeners have a real sense of accomplishment. The produce they grow is a tangible result of their hard work and personal growth.

“It’s really great, and it’s a really fun opportunity to learn how to be in the job world, and to get ready,” said Marcus.

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Loveland Youth Gardeners is hosting a volunteer project as part of Xcel Energy’s Day of Service. The program has to move locations, so Day of Service volunteers will be asked to help prepare for the move.

“Our staff is so involved with our programs and the amount of time and energy that those take. And that additional help is really, really important to us, so that we can make sure that we have a successful move,” said Anderson.

LINKS: Day of Service Registration | Loveland Youth Gardeners

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