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White's opens new garden center

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BLOOMS: Linda Harris and 4-year-old Adalena browse the collection of flowers at 50 East Garden Center and Cafe on Friday.
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GREEN THUMB: Intern Mentor Wendele Mealy offers tips in caring for various plants at 50 East Garden Center on Friday.

BY Kaitlin Gebby - kgebby@wabashplaindealer.com

Opportunity is growing at the brand new 50 East Garden Center and Cafe on White’s Residential Services campus.

The garden center and cafe, which celebrated its grand opening last week, is a public space that allows students to learn vocational skills to be successful in future work while also offering something for the community too. The center houses a program called Growing Teens for Life, which started in 2014 and is based on five pillars of success, including educational and vocational skills, life skills, work experience, financial stability and mentorship.

Kenny Harvey, director of experiential learned for White’s, was working with students serving drinks inside the cafe of the garden center on Friday. Harvey said the new facility offers an outlet for students and a “safe place to fail.”

“This gives students some real world experience in an area where it’s safe to make mistakes without jeopardizing their job,” he said. “We take those situations and use them as learning opportunities. We apply a lot of grace and use them as teaching moments for them to work through.”

While the Growing Teens program has been years in the making, the facility housing the program only took a few months to construct. 

Inside 50 East Garden Center is a coffee shop with baked goods and hot and cold beverages. The cafe also offers seating for guests to relax, chat or look out into the greenhouse. In the garden center, the public can come in and purchase plants and gardening accessories for their home, the proceeds of which go back into White’s.

People who purchase plants from 50 East can also receive an education on how to best care for each plant from the garden staff. After explaining how often to water and prune a plant to a customer, Intern Mentor Wednele Mealy said she refers to herself as a “growing grub.”

Students involved in the vocational program have said they didn’t know the potential they had before coming to work in the gardens. Others have said they’ve gained “people skills” and work experience that can be applied to future opportunities.

The garden center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturday, 8 to 4 p.m. The cafe is open 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. The facility is closed on Sundays.