Tag Archives: youth

It Takes a Village

The culminating festival for the Garden of Fire was a tremendous success from every aspect.

It takes a village,” as they say, and the program and festival could not have happened without all the amazing educators, artists, and community volunteers. We were delighted to have parents join us in celebrating their children’s accomplishments. The youths are the heart and joy of the program with their enthusiasm and eagerness to try new things.

The Garden of Fire: Summer of Water ironically took place during weeks of severe drought and heat in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. Each week of programs centered on topics including nature, growing cycles, healthy food, and art – highlighting the connection to water, importance of potable (drinkable) water, sounds & rhythms of water through music, reliance on water for life on Earth, and water pollution and conservation.

Suddenly, three days before the festival we were surprised with a series of thunderstorms and downpours. The much-needed water finally came! Naturally, we were a bit worried for the festival, BUT the morning of the celebration the dark clouds cleared and the sun shone bright and hot!

Kids reveled in all the water-themed activities, live music, art displays and games which opened and closed with a special ceremony.

In closing, we thank everyone who contributed and we look forward to 2017!

Amy Ruza
Education Programs Coordinator
The Rockwell Museum

Creating Fertile Ground for Healing, Growth, and Endless Possibilities

When a child is able to connect an experience in their life to the broader world around them, something magical happens!

There is a moment. An expression. A pause. A light bulb turns on, and a child who is struggling no longer feels alone. They feel safe. They feel understood. That is the moment in which we as counselors and educators can truly make a difference. When that moment combines with laughter, play, and creativity, then the possibilities for healing are endless.

Don’t get me wrong, these experiences are rare. Those of us who work with at-risk youth focus all efforts on creating those kinds of moments, but the truth is that you can’t force them – all you can do is create the space for them to happen. This work is what CareFirst and all of the other Garden of Fire partners are trying to accomplish in our summer programming. In the recent Rain Stick Making workshop led by CareFirst’s Tara Chapman, these moments were abundant.

Photos courtesy of Dan Gallagher Photography

You can see the look in their eye as they were able to connect their emotional experiences to the world around them, and specifically, to this year’s theme of water. The children were able to talk about their life, times when they had difficult things happen, and how they cope with the intense emotions of life we all feel.  They used the symbol of water and created rain sticks that allowed them to create music and express themselves in a new and unique way.

These kinds of activities are what help young minds grow.

When we as humans combine nature and creativity with a chance to process our emotions and focus on our own well-being, it creates fertile ground for healing, growth, and endless possibilities.

There is no greater blessing than to see this in our youth and to know that the future of tomorrow is being left in the hands of children who have not only expanded their minds, but healed their hearts.

Chelsea E. Ambrose
Counseling Services Manager, CareFirst

“When the earth needs a drink, Mother Nature makes it Rain!”

There is something about the smell that lingers in the air after a rainstorm in the summer time… for me it is extremely calming and refreshing, and it brings back many memories of summers spent playing outside as a child.

Unfortunately, this summer we have had very few rainstorms, meaning far fewer chances to enjoy this experience. However, this week we were lucky enough to receive some much needed rain!

The rain triggered a conversation between myself and a 9-year-old girl. I asked her why she thought rain was important, and her answer was sweet and simple: “It helps everything on the earth, like plants so they are able to grow, and for people to drink!” She then continued with “When the earth needs a drink, Mother Nature makes it rain!”

 The Garden of Fire continues to spark imaginations this year with the theme of WATER.

So far this summer the Corning Youth Center has visited The Rockwell Museum to make clay animal sculptures to protect their gardens, they have made and decorated their own rain sticks while learning about how to cope with their own emotions, and they have visited the Tanglewood Nature Center to go on a hike, meet some of their fascinating animals, and participate in a drumming circle, all while learning about the importance of water.

In each of these activities youth were encouraged to use their imaginations and to be creative. For their animal sculptures at The Rockwell, each youth was asked to choose a specific animal that they themselves could relate to. Some youth chose a bird, some chose snakes, another chose an elephant, and a young girl chose a lion. When asked why she chose a lion, specifically a male lion, she said:

“Because lions are strong, courageous, and fierce, like me!”

These moments are why we love Garden of Fire.

Ashlee Peachey
Laura Richardson Houghton Corning Youth Center


Photos courtesy of Dan Gallagher Photography

Mistakes Become Discoveries!

Imagine a place where your child can create a piece of art without the pressure of a grade, the stress of a deadline, the absence of a requirement, with and endless supply of tools for his or her creation.

Imagine a place where he or she can speak openly about personal emotions and loss. This is a place where people listen free of judgment. It is somewhere that, after hearing how you drew the birds in the sky and they did not come out how you wanted, your neighbor throws her paintbrush in the air and shouts: Mistakes become discoveries!

We’ve found our place. This is why we love the Garden of Fire.


The Corning Youth Center went to The Rockwell Museum on Tuesday. A discussion and meditation led by CareFirst’s Chelsea Ambrose prompted a powerful conversation about grief and loss experienced in the lives of our youth. A safe space was created for youth of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences to connect through their hardships and no longer feel alone, but to feel united and empowered by those sitting beside them. We walked through The Rockwell and discussed pieces of art through their expression and meaning and how each child can express themselves when they sit down to create art.


This week’s project was to create and design a clay tile. A ten year old described her clay tile. “The clouds are eyes and the raindrops are tears.” She told me the tree represents growth and how she will never stop growing.

This was a beautiful project. The Garden of Fire has given our youth an outlet of expression where words do not suffice.

Maybe it seems silly that, with a project focused on a time of overwhelming emotion or change in life, an eight year old raises her hand to ask, “How do you draw a Minion?” But, if you ask her why the Minion is relevant to her project, she will tell you that last week she went to the movies with her best friend and she finally felt “really happy.”

This is why we love the Garden of Fire.

Caitlin McConville
Laura Richardson Houghton Corning Youth Center

A Garden Growing In Hornell

At the Hornell Area Concern for Youth, creating a garden has been a fun, educational, and nutritional piece of our summer program for the last six years.

We like to experiment with a variety of vegetables in our raised beds, and it’s been a learning experience. We have always grown tomatoes; the year that the region experienced wide-spread tomato blight, we used it as an opportunity to teach our students why and how blights can occur.


Last year, with the start of the Garden of Fire program, our gardening projects reached new heights. Ian, from Tanglewood Nature Center, came to us early on to get us started for growing season in a whole new way. He taught the students about our particular type of soil, and how geological changes like glaciers can affect the richness and nutrient content of soil in a given region.

He taught us so many things we hadn’t considered in the past, including preserving our vegetables to eat all-year-round. We learned to can our vegetables last year, turning cucumbers into delicious pickles, and our beautiful tomatoes into spaghetti sauce. Those were treats that we have enjoyed all winter.

Now it is time to start anew for this year. We have been so busy with our spring programming, that admittedly we got behind the growing schedule. Amazingly – count our lucky stars – Paul Shephard Jr., our Special Projects Coordinator, received a call from a group looking for volunteer opportunities.


The camp counselors, all twelve of them from Camp Stella Maris came with gardening tools in hand to help us take control of the garden again. They took on the enormous task of weeding, adding organic fertilizers, and disposing of the grass. Then, with the aid of our youth center participants, the group planted a beautiful garden.

Garden 1

We are now prepared for another eventful summer of learning about the garden and how it can be a rewarding hobby. It really feels like the first days of summer when we look at the garden and it is weeded and planted. Now to keep it that way!

In a few weeks we will be building new garden beds for the Wimodaughsian Free Library in Canisteo.

Happy planting to all of the other gardeners out there!