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OHDC YouthSource's Supa Fresh Youth Farm gets visit from member of Congress

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici tours the garden at YouthSource with the program's director, Mia Bartlett. U.S. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici made a stop in Metzger this week to check out a popular youth workplace program that helps troubled students get the skills they need to make it in the real world.

On Monday, Bonamici, a two-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, stopped by YouthSource, a program run by the Oregon Human Development Corporation in the former Metzger United Methodist Church. The organization helps at risk high school students get through school and gain work experience in internships with local companies.

The organization is well-known in the community for its Supa Fresh Youth Farm, a work-place readiness program that teaches students important work skills through gardening. Students spend months cultivating fruits and vegetables, which they sell at the Tualatin Farmers Market.

“I wanted to find out what (YouthSource is) doing here,” Bonamici said. “Workforce issues are so important and I wanted to find out what is engaging (students) and what makes them not as engaged.”

Bonamici said that YouthSource’s work serves as an inspiration, particularly its Supa Fresh Youth Farm.

“Students are growing something, and not only can they see the fruits of their labor, but they also learn skills that are so important,” she said.

The program is funded, in part, through the federal Workforce Investment Act. Bonamici said that funding like that needs to continue.

“I don’t know where these kids would be if they didn’t have this opportunity,” Bonamici said. “(YouthSource) is making sure they are engaged and getting the skills they need, but they also have a community and people that they can learn from and talk with, and get them on a path to be responsible and productive members of their community. It’s a good investment, in the short term and the long term.”

This year, YouthSource also began work on “The Hub,” a state-funded program for expelled, suspended, truant, drop-out and adjudicated students to continue their educations.

The Oregon Democrat met with students enrolled in the program to discuss problems in the public school system, and to see how the students’ work with the Supa Fresh Farm impacts their lives.

“It’s amazing,” said Mia Bartlett, program director at OHDC YouthSource. “I never got to meet my congresswoman when I was in high school.”

Bartlett said that students need to know that adults have their backs, and the chance to talk with a U.S. Congresswoman is a great way to get students motivated.

“Rep. Bonamici’s visit and her conversations with our youth clearly conveyed her commitment to youth workforce development and alternative education programs,” Bartlett said, “as well as her genuine interest in the struggles our youth experience in more traditional school environments.”

Education has always been a major issue for Bonamici, a longtime Beaverton schools volunteer and education advocate who first ran for the Oregon Legislature in 2006. She told students on Monday that she ran for Congress because that’s where she could make a bigger impact in the lives of students.

“I realized that a lot of education policy is determined at the federal level,” she said.

Students said that issues of bullying and disengagement in subjects such as mathematics made it difficult for them to focus in school.

Bartlett said that students took Bonamici’s message of fixing the public school system to heart.

“After Rep. Bonamici left, the kids were talking in the garden about sending her their ideas on how to make school better for students just like them,” Bartlett said. “It means a lot to us that our youth get to see that they have a voice and that their ideas matter. Rep. Bonamici should expect plenty of emails from the youth farmers and Hub students. They’re excited and feeling empowered.”

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