Hello everyone my name is Renae Mai and I wanted share my experience volunteering with Release at the Sarpy County Juvenile Justice Center’s garden. 

This past year and summer, Release was invited to bring volunteer programs to the Sarpy JJC.  The facility director, Tami Steensma asked Release to bring a large abandoned vegetable garden on their property back into operation.  In previous years, the garden had been a positive activity and mentoring opportunity for the youth detained at the JJC.   

Release needed someone with gardening experience to bring the garden back to life and since I have A LOT of garden experience and completed a Master Gardner Program at UNL, this seemed like a real good fit! As we prepared for this garden project for the season, I witnessed several local churches, Reality Church and Calvary Church, partner with Release to provide volunteers throughout the whole summer. What a blessing this truly was!

During the summer we had several really big garden clean-up days. It was beautiful to watch an abandoned plot of land come to life while many volunteers labored in love. We did everything from tilling the garden, planting vegetables, pulling weeds, cutting down a tree growing through the fence, moving a half a truck load of mulch, planting of trees and much organizing and cleaning up the shed.  

From these big service projects, several folks became faithful, weekly volunteers that came and loved on the garden twice a week to maintain the 25 ft x 30 ft vegetable garden. This is hard work folks – consistent watering, weeding and finally harvesting. Several reasons why this is impactful is our team of volunteers came week in and week out, no matter the elements the weather gave, the team of volunteers always showed up, faithfully and consistency. What commitment!

The harvest from all the laboring this past season was immense. All the produce was used in the JJC kitchen for cooking and meal prep activities with youth. How cool! The best part of my experience was the admirable people I met.  The facility director, Tami Steensma, and her staff are committed to helping the detained youth. 

I value the new friends I made over the summer tremendously and also am grateful for all the small businesses that donated to the rise of the JJC Garden.  And lastly, I was surprised and so encouraged by the generosity of the small businesses I asked for discounts.  

This winter we are planning improvements and preparing for outdoor activities and education for volunteers and youth next year!

For more information about getting involved, contact Marcus@releaseinc.org.