Meeting “sprouts” ideas to end violence

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April 12th, 2011

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Omaha, NE – After a week of gun violence throughout the city of Omaha, community leaders and volunteers are stepping up to offer their suggestions on how to save the youth of their community. At an anti-violence meeting in North Omaha Monday night, one solution stood out: community gardens.

Omaha City Sprouts employed 40 at-risk youth and ex-gang members last summer. (Photo credit to OmahaSprouts.org/David McBride)

Jeannie Dickes is a co-director of City Sprouts, a group which promotes and maintains over 22 lots in Omaha’s inner city, growing healthy foods and employing at-risk youth, ex-cons and ex-gang members. She attended a community meeting sponsored by “Enough is Enough”, an anti-violence group at North High School.

She explained that some of the problems plaguing her community are the lack of valuable employment and access to healthy foods. Last summer, with the help of grants, Dickes said, City Sprouts hired more than 40 teens, ex-convicts and ex-gang members. And she said now those employees are ready to get back to work. “I’m getting phone calls every day,” she said. “‘When are we going to start planting Miss J-9? When are we going to do this, when are we going to do that? Do we got the money for the job?’ All I need is grant money to pay for these kids to work,” said Dickes.

Dickes, who said she’s a fifth-generation North Omahan, said she noticed a lack of workplace etiquette in those workers last year. In the beginning, they didn’t show up on time, she said, they dressed inappropriately and thought they could do drugs on the lawn. Local police officers checked up on their progress, which according to Dickes, would send the workers running “towards the bushes”. But within six weeks, trust and skills were established. The workers soon brought in their family and friends to showcase their hard work.

Over 22 lots are maintained by the Omaha City Sprouts organization. (Photo credit to OmahaSprouts.org/David McBride)

Ollie Perryman is an ex-convict seven years of out of prison. He said it’s his mission to right the wrongs he inflicted on the community in the early 1990s. At the meeting he said, “I believe, what I see is no outlet. Nothing to do. They’re bored. There’s nothing being produced in North Omaha, and I believe if we turn our kids into producers instead of consumers, and show our kids, and instead of telling our kids what they’re good at, ask these children what they’re good at.”

Perryman said North Omaha must start creating businesses owned by its residents — businesses that create jobs for a community stricken with a disproportionately high unemployment rate. Jeannie Dickes agreed. She said the number of convenience stores selling liquor, and fast food restaurants with unhealthy meals, far outnumber the need of the residents surrounding them.

“The first year I did this, I went out every morning,” she said, “I bought cereal, milk, juice, fruit, vegetables; they wouldn’t even eat it! They would not touch it.”

“They’d go to McDonald’s and they’d bring their junk and eat it. They didn’t know what a tomato was…no, we don’t want anymore convenience stores and liquor stores. We want things that are going to supply healthy businesses for these people to work. You know, food for us.”

Dickes said it’s the hope of community organizations such as City Sprouts that the re-education of at-risk residents can help them put down the guns and pick up the garden shears for a healthier and more productive North Omaha.

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