August 1, 2001 | By: Haven Miller

Teenagers in a west Kentucky summer youth corps program are helping care for a community garden and learning valuable skills at the same time.

The youth are part of the Paducah Summer Youth Corps program, and the garden is maintained by the Purchase Area Master Gardeners Association with help from the University of Kentucky's Cooperative Extension Service.

"These kids are great because they help us pull weeds, apply mulch, prune perennials, and whatever is needed," said Kathy Keeney, county Extension agent for horticulture. "Most of these kids are from the inner city and don't have a garden, so this gives them a chance to get a new experience and to learn some basic gardening skills."

The garden was started a little more than a year ago. It now has a greenhouse, an arbor, a pergola, and dozens of varieties of flowers and other plants.

"The garden serves as a research and demonstration area, and we have plants from all across the United States that have been sent in so we can try them out," said Keeney.

Master Gardener volunteers keep the garden growing. The youth corps participants, who are paid through the program, provide assistance and at the same time get a positive learning experience.

"I think the gardening program out here probably has given these workers the widest breadth of any of the things they've had to learn," said Jonathan Sircy, a college student and Youth Corps supervisor.

"I didn't know that much before, but I know a lot now," said Eulika Lowe, a 14-year old Youth Corps participant. "I think I could help my granny with her garden now."

Keeney said people who are exposed to experiences while they are young may reap benefits later because the experience becomes a part of their life.

"We've given some of the kids some plants to take home so their parents can enjoy them as well, so that's taking gardening home and that's what we're after," she said. "We're hoping to get these kids interested in horticulture."