In a small plant nursery tucked away in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, Marika Van Reeuwyk assists a dozen youth with planting the last of their big leaf lupine and springbank clover.
The seeds, which are native plants, are carefully placed into tiny pots where they’ll spend the winter growing in a greenhouse at Strathcona Community Gardens. Come spring, the youth will distribute at least 1,700 of the plants to local schools, community organizations and families to support urban wildlife habitat.
The work is all part of the Environmental Youth Alliance’s (EYA) Community Nursery Program, which began in 2004 and provides youth facing barriers with opportunities to become environmental stewards. Some of the youth have mental-health challenges, while others have recently arrived in Canada to become citizens. Van Reeuwyk’s heart warms when she sees the impact the program has on youth.
“We see a big shift in their confidence and social skills. A lot of the youth leave the program with more social connections and friends, and they are empowered with this new knowledge about native plants,” Van Reeuwyk, an EYA facilitator, said. “It really deepens their connection with nature and builds their awareness of what they see around them. There’s a deeper strength and gift in seeing a plant and knowing that it has an ability to heal people or is something you can eat.”
The Community Nursery Program is one way the EYA has been providing transformative nature experiences for youth during the last 30 years. Through a variety of hands-on programs, the youth gain skills in native plant horticulture, habitat restoration and citizen science. More habitats are also created for wildlife, such as birds and pollinators, in downtown Vancouver.
According to Van Reeuwyk, many of the youth involved in EYA programs now walk down the street with their friends, pointing out a garden they helped plant or certain plants that can be used to heal wounds. Because of the program, 16-year-old Sarah is now aware of the impact plants have on ecosystems and animals.
“I had never really thought about the native plants that I see every day. I’ve had the chance to spend more time outside learning new skills and information I’ve never thought about before,” Sarah said. “I didn’t know how to plant seeds, transfer a plant, make soil, know what birds are native to my community, and I didn’t understand the impacts of humans on nature before I came to this program.”
The EYA recently received $60,000 in community gaming grants from the Province to support four programs, including the Community Nursery Program.
Every year, commercial gambling generates revenue that the B.C. government invests in key services. A portion of the revenue is allocated via the $140-million Community Gaming Grants program, which helps fund over 5,000 not-for-profit organizations throughout the province.
For 2019-20, approximately $4.6 million from the program was allotted to 135 organizations in the environment sector. Environmental programming gives British Columbians the opportunity to learn about and connect with nature. The grants also support wildlife rehabilitation programs and shelters for animals.
For more information about B.C.’s Community Gaming Grants program, visit https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/sports-culture/gambling-fundraising/gaming-grants
For more information about the Environmental Youth Alliance, visit https://eya.ca/