St. Augustine Youth Services Plants Gardens and Reaps Unexpected Rewards

For twenty-five years, St. Augustine Youth Services (SAYS) has been providing therapeutic residential services to children, many of whom have been the victims of child abuse and/or extreme neglect. SAYS provides its children with a safe, stable home in which to live, learn, grow and heal, both physically and emotionally.


garden in full bloomSAYS moved into the 12 acre Hutson Family Campus last March on US 1 South near SR206 and has developed two unique gardening programs.


Gardening can help our boys progress socially, educationally and psychologically. When children take care of something living they learn skills that help them take care of themselves, increasing the child’s power of observation; understanding what happened, what is happening and what needs to happen. It is hard to overstate the benefits when children garden, but for some the benefits may be profound, especially children who have experienced emotional and physical abuse, requiring separation from family and long term institutional care. Our boys have had few opportunities to experience life outside of the context of their neglect and abuse and personal emotional/behavioral struggles. Gardening allows the boys to take on the role of caregiver, creating opportunities to gain a positive sense of self worth, personal capacity and accomplishment. In this relaxed environment children can experience conversation, socialization, and express their feelings. We have seen our boys gain a sense of belonging and ownership for the gardens and feel pride in their work.


garden w butterflyThe Dodd Family Giving Garden is our butterfly garden, although a little sad looking right now from the freeze, it has turned out to be more rewarding than ever expected.

The boys could not believe they created something that would attract so many butterflies. On most days we would see as many as ten species of butterflies and half as many caterpillars. A few days they were in such great numbers that work would stop and staff would stand around the garden watching in wonder. This spring we will add more species of native plants to host and feed even more species of butterflies.


Vegetable garden full grownThe Dell Sauls Family Learning Garden is a box style garden utilizing custom designed soil, vertical and horizontal growing methods. All of the boxes have green house hoops so they can be covered for starting seed or protect from inclement weather. We designed our soil to be similar to the Amazon Terra Preta soil. Using local resources we crafted the soil with Kaolin clay, silt and sand, “bio” char(coal) charged with fish and seaweed compost tea and added beneficial nematodes, fungi and bacteria.


We are deeply grateful for the fifty plus volunteers who worked many hard hours building the garden from the ground up. Special thanks go to Austin Outdoor, Inc, in Bunnell for grading the garden area and mixing the soil; to Barbara Trunzo, our amazing forewoman; to the most enthusiastic students from Flagler College; the volunteers from the New Life Baptist Church and the Riverdale United Methodist Church and all the community volunteers, staff and the boys at SAYS. We are already enjoying lettuce, strawberries, collard greens, herbs and other vegetables.


Completion of the garden will take place in early spring. We will construct our grow tunnel; finish our fence gates, covered shelter and storage; plant for spring and start seeds for summer. We look forward to working with the St. Augustine Garden Club’s Woodland Circle and thank them for the advice they given to us so far.