With a colorful mural as a backdrop and plants bathing in the sunny weather engulfing the youth garden at Drake Chavez Greenbelt Park, Adventures to Dreams Enrichment hosted a Christmas experience for children on Saturday, Dec. 19.
Adventures to Dreams Enrichment is an organization serving youth living in at-risk neighborhoods and seeks to empower them through hands-on enrichment and mentorship. It was founded in 2015 by educator Sheila Grantham and teaches children ages 4-14 years, gardening, STEM, art, and cooking skills.
The event included a brunch with hot chicken and waffles prepared by parent Iesha Foster and Grantham, respectively, and featured an ornament decorating session, gardening activities and a toy giveaway.
The toys provided to the children were gathered by Urban Reset who partnered with artist lounge, Art Is My Drug, as part of their first toy drive. Urban Reset is a new organization that specializes in providing support, services and mentorship to inner-city youth and community.
“I reached out to Long Beach Resources and they partnered me with Ms. Sheila,” Bruce McCall Jr., founder of Urban Reset said. “I met with different organizations and she had the limit of kids that I knew I could meet the goal for, she’s doing an amazing job, so me and my partners wanted to just meet up and try to make it a good event for the kids, it turned out great.”
Additionally, Adventures to Dreams applied for a donation through Kroger and received a $5,000 check, with which Grantham bought gift cards for the families. She also gifted the children with pajamas.
For the families, having this socially distanced Christmas experience at a time when COVID-19 restrictions might prevent them from having their usual holiday traditions, was meaningful.
“Right now since our family is not getting together, unfortunately, at least I feel like this is giving them the holiday spirit,” parent Vanessa Cruz said. “It’s good for them that they know Christmas is still here, it’s just a little different this year, so I just want them to get that experience, this is replacing some of it.”
Cruz’s children were part of the three families that made up the morning shift of the event. These families have been part of the program since 2017. The afternoon saw four families from the neighborhood, who are new to the program.
Volunteers for the event laughed and played with the children at their socially distanced tables as they waited for activities to start and food to be served, their comfort with one another readily apparent.
The atmosphere was festive with a Christmas tree donated by Ricardo’s Nursery overlooking the festivities and red poinsettia pots adorning each family’s table.
Karen Haney, a program volunteer with a background in horticultural therapy, took some of the children through a small educational tour of the garden where they explored different plants.
“This is a safe space and a comfortable place for the kids to come and explore and keep their minds active and positive socializing with other kids,” Haney said. “Just the act of being in the area and interacting, the kids are getting so many benefits, and so it means a lot to me to get to be a part of that.”
She continued, “It’s therapeutic for me to be able to talk to people about plants and to be out with the plants.”
The plants, the gardening, art and science activities take place two Saturdays a month and the Christmas joy emanating from the event for the children and their families wouldn’t have been possible without Grantham’s passion for giving children positive experiences that they normally wouldn’t be exposed to.
While Grantham was working in Watts as an educator for the Los Angeles Unified School District, she asked her students what they did on the weekends, and one of the answers she received set in motion what is now Adventures to Dreams.
“One day this little boy stood up and he said ‘well we don’t go outside on the weekends, because it’s dangerous,” Grantham remembered. […] “And then all the kids started talking about the dead bodies they’ve seen and I was just like oh, my god.”
Grantham called her daughter and announced she was starting a program on Saturdays so children would be able to go out.
She enlisted the help of some friends and with parental permission and attendance of some, started taking the children to museums in Los Angeles.
In 2016, Grantham thought it would be great to teach children how to garden according to the program’s online bio, and reached out to Joe Corso, Garden Director at Long Beach Organic to get garden plots to start her gardening activities.
In February 2020, Grantham signed a lease with Long Beach Parks and Rec for 10,000 square feet of land where the current garden resides. Over the summer about 20 volunteers visited the site to build eight garden beds.
Grantham’s vision has been executed using mainly her own funding, with some funding coming from other resources after COVID-19 hit. Adventures to Dream’s bio states that with the help of donations, the organization has been able to carry on and grow. It was their own fundraising efforts for land development that helped them raise $12,000 in donations, which went toward necessities including ¾ of fence installation.
“It would be great to get more help from the City,” Grantham said.
With the success of the Christmas event now behind them, Grantham and her team will carry on next year, and continue to inspire Long Beach youth to “dream big.”
Adventures to Dreams Enrichment’s youth garden is located at Drake Chavez Greenbelt Park 903 Fairbanks Ave. in Long Beach.