photo credit: Robert Allan
The story begins with a 2010 Neighbour Grant to the Green Chiefs Environmental Club at Diefenbaker High School. Teacher and program facilitator, Robert Allan, saw an opportunity to create a community garden out front of the school and revitalize the dull concrete area. The Calgary Foundation's Neighbour Grants program supported the garden space development, and the school was soon in full bloom with trees, shrubs and annuals.
Shortly after, the Environmental Club realized they wanted to do more than just a garden; they wanted to create a living, breathing space beyond the plants. Robert thought it would be a nice idea to bring in some local seniors to assist with the gardening. The Calgary Foundation connected Robert and his Club with LINKages Society of Alberta, an organization providing intergenerational services to connect young people with seniors. LINKages put the Club in touch with the nearby Manor at Huntington Hills, where staff were eager to develop a partnership between their senior residents and students at Diefenbaker.
A community connection was quickly forged. For the past two years, seniors and students have been gathering regularly in the garden for tea parties, which include cards, board games, and visits over snacks. When the weather turns cold, the students start visiting the Manor.
"In our first year, we were most surprised to see that students continued their visits during the summer months," explained Robert. "That means kids were coming to school in the summer! That's how successful this program had become." Today, the school has begun advertising for volunteer openings. They typically receive close to 50 applications from students, and can only accommodate 20 of those.
As Robert explains, the success of the program is unexpected. "We didn't have plans for a program like this, we just wanted to build a garden," he said. "We had hopes to make the garden a part of the community, but this has resulted in an accidental community connection that reaches far beyond the Environmental Club."