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Youth Service Corps

Allen Neighborhood Center’s Youth Service Corps is a job and life skills training program engaging 20-30 youth, ages 11-17, with healthy food availability projects in neighborhoods on the eastside of Lansing. Youth build and install garden boxes for neighbors, plant and maintain a community garden, and make and sell healthy snacks at a local park. 
Michigan Nightlight: Tell us briefly about the Youth Service Corps projects.
Allen Neighborhood Center Youth Programs Coordinator Leah Kelley: With Garden-In-A-Box, YSC builds and installs 2 x 2 foot garden boxes at the homes of neighbors with limited income, mobility, and/or gardening skill. Youth learn basic carpentry and horticulture skills, and how to interact with a diverse population through this project.
Edible Park project is a garden space in Hunter Park designed and maintained by YSC members and designated for any park-goers to harvest the many perennial herbs and fruits growing there. Youth learn horticulture and landscape design skills through this project.  
Our newest project is Park Cart, where healthy snacks are sold by YSC members to increase healthy food availability in Hunter Park and increase sustainability of the program.

Our newest project is Park Cart, where healthy snacks are sold by YSC members to increase healthy food availability in Hunter Park and increase sustainability of the program. Youth learn business, customer service, marketing, book keeping, and food safety skills. We also engage in mentoring during Park Cart sessions.
What really differentiates this program?
We provide a space for youth to serve that engages them in the community through a variety of activities. While serving, YSC members learn skills such as construction, gardening, sales, leadership, and teamwork. We are also able to offer a stipend for their service in the form of a gift card, to reward dedicated members for their hard work.
What are the keys to success for your program?
Youth involvement is key to success in our program. With their input and energy, we accomplish so much. Especially helpful are youth that are committed to the program for long periods of time. In addition to them gaining more experience, we benefit from their continued knowledge that they can share with members who more recently joined.
Another key aspect is community involvement. Volunteers, neighbors, guest instructors, and park-goers are necessary to keeping our program strong. We are so thankful for our returning volunteers and neighbors who support the program.
What existing challenges remain with this program and how do you plan to overcome them?
This past summer’s Park Cart sales were not as lucrative as we had hoped. We plan to overcome this by improving the value
Youth involvement is key to success in our program. With their input and energy, we accomplish so much.
of the products sold. Previously we sold pre-packaged snacks, but next summer we will be selling delicious healthy snacks prepared in Allen Neighborhood Center’s new certified commercial kitchen.
Youth Service Corps offers many different activities. How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
The ideas are initiated by YSC members and staff through the process of identifying key needs of the Eastside neighborhood. The key need identified has been improved access to healthy food, which is the basis of Edible Park, Garden-In-A-Box, and Park Cart. Each program is evaluated prior to getting started through intensive planning and a feasibility study.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
Our hopes for the profitability and sustainability of our Park Cart were higher than the demand for healthy snacks in Hunter Park this past summer. However, this opened up a window of opportunity for relationship building and mentoring with YSC members serving at Park Cart. We used this time when customers were few to read relevant articles on the topic of food justice and to reflect with members on how it relates to their life in Lansing. We learned that the success we originally foresaw for Park Cart turned into a different but still incredibly valuable asset.
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Person Profile

  • Leah Kelley
    Moving youth, others toward better health


  • Allen Neighborhood Center
    Allen Neighborhood Center (ANC) is a non-profit community development agency that supports sustainable, healthy, networked and stable neighborhoods on Lansing’s Eastside.


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