About once a week, Betty Van Til can be found demonstrating kitchen essentials to a small group of students in the Streams of Hope kitchen. Under her guidance, three students at a time get to tend their plot in our community garden, harvest the latest produce, and then practice cooking a healthy meal. Along the way they make new friends, grow healthy relationships, and get to try something new! 

“We planted some things in the garden and it’s fun for them to watch the progress of growth and production of fruits on the vine,” said Betty. “I quickly found out that their passion is in the kitchen area. So far they are impressing me. I am just taking pantry staples and enhancing them with garden produce, and we’ve turned out some things that have blown my mind with their creativity.”

Betty and her husband Brian serve as our community garden managers. They are also long-time volunteers and supporters at Urban Family Ministries, a local nonprofit that works with young people. Betty retired a year ago and had always dreamed about a program like this for students. It combines her passion for gardening and the kitchen with her teaching skills. Her goal, she says, is to give these students “a seed of self-sustainability.”

“With a little bit of effort,” says Betty, “you don’t have to rely on others. You can do it for yourself.” Many students in the program come from families that are food insecure or experiencing other brokenness. Each week they learn a new skill in a challenging and encouraging environment. 

“They are so enthusiastic and willing to learn,” she says.”My prayer is that I am planting a seed and they can use it in the future.” After harvesting from the community garden, she shows them how to wash fresh lettuce, chop up zucchini, or bake a pizza topped with onions and peppers. Betty focuses on making foods that are familiar to them, like pizza, but making healthier versions that incorporate garden-fresh produce. Her rule is that you don’t have to like everything, but you have to at least give it a try. 

“I’m grateful for the opportunity that God has given me to develop this passion,” says Betty. “The graciousness of both Streams of Hope and Urban Family Ministries, and the opportunity to advance these students’ life skills, is so rewarding to me.” One student in the group said she had become a “lazy teen” during the pandemic. Since that first week together, she has become open, engaged and involved—often helping the younger girls in her group. She has shared stories of meals she is now preparing for her family, and also expressing dreams of her future. 

We’re so excited about Betty’s initiative and how it fits in with our vision of “healthy schools, neighborhoods, and families”! For more information about the Community Garden, click here. You can also see more volunteer opportunities here.