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Newtown Florist Club grows more than vegetables
Girls learn about gardening and self-esteem
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Shanicka Stephens, 16, searches through bushy tomato plants for the fruit Wednesday morning in the Ruby Wilkins Garden in Newtown. Stephens joined about a dozen young women in the garden as part of the Newtown Florist Club’s leadership program.

While most 16-year-old’s slept late and did as they pleased this summer, Shanicka Stephens and her friends were growing and getting their hands dirty, literally.

Shanicka has spent the past two summers with the Newtown Florist Club girls leadership program. And she served as a teen leader this year.

Shanicka said the program, which ends this week, has helped her grow into a better leader and a more confident person. That is the goal of the six-week summer program. It provides girls with life lessons and social experiences to help them become more self-reliant and self-assured.

Brittany Knight, 13, said gardening was fun, but it might not be a favorite activity for some people.

“You have to get dirty,” Brittany said. “Some girls don’t like to get dirty. But it didn’t really bother me.”

Every year, the girls plant a vegetable garden at the Ruby Wilkins Community Garden in Gainesville. The heavy rains this summer prevented the girls from being able to work in it as often. The rains showed them firsthand how a garden’s needs change depending on the weather.

The garden is a key part of the program.

“We’re teaching them life skills,” program teacher Teresa Young said. “With the economy being the way it is, they don’t have to purchase everything they eat from the store. If they can harvest a garden in their backyard it can save them money. It can be cost-efficient. Then all they have to do is buy their meat and it’s a lot easier to live on a budget that way.”

Young teaches the girls how to plant, harvest, wash and prepare the produce, initiating them into each stage of gardening and molding them into experience gardeners..

Shanicka said she enjoyed working in the community garden, adding young people should get their hands dirty and help others.

“We’re so into technology, we need to get outside or get to a church,” Shanicka said. “You know, it’s like somebody help somebody. It’s not all about us. I just love helping or anything I can do to learn or share with people I love to do it.”

When the girls weren’t tending the garden, they took field trips and learned valuable lessons from guest speakers. The girls witnessed an actual court case and learned about the legal system with a visit to the county courthouse. They also toured the University of Georgia campus. Several speakers taught the girls about safety, hygiene, attitude and how to handle themselves in different social situations.

Brittany, who has attended the program for four years, said she’s grown “a lot” since she started spending her summers with the club.

“I’ve improved my attitude,” Brittany said.

“... That’s the truth,” Young said smiling at Brittany.

“It’s changed the way I approach people and how I basically carry myself better than I used to,” Brittany said. “This is a good camp and it helps a lot with young ladies futures and our quality of life.”

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