Community Coordinators Learn about the Local Food System on Field Trips

Community Coordinators learn about Global Cafe with owner Kate Gonzalez

Community Coordinators learn about Global Cafe with owner Kate Gonzalez

While the concept of a field trip might conjure up images of packed school buses full of kids headed to the state capitol, zoo or museum; think instead about a small group of adults visiting various sites in our community that are part of the local food system. This summer, Sunrise Project’s Community Coordinators engaged in hands-on experiential learning at a range of sites that grow food, sell food and feed people as part of the Food Plan Equity Project. The field trips were organized on two different mornings that were jam-packed with information and exploration.

Community Coordinators visited two Common Grounds sites on one day of the field trips: Penn St. Community Gardens and Lawrence Community Orchard demonstrated to the attendees how formerly vacant city land can be transformed into vibrant community growing spaces. “It just amazes me that there are so many hidden gems like these sites all over Lawrence,” Community Coordinator Owie Tsosie reflected. Exploring the Common Grounds sites were Robin St. James’ favorite part of the field trips as well, “I’m proud to be part of a community that looks for and finds long-term, sustainable solutions to its problems.” The group also visited the Sunrise site at 1501 Learnard where Sunrise Project is renovating a portion of the former Sunrise Garden Center into a community kitchen, classroom and greenhouse learning space.

Touring Moon on the Meadow farm was Betty Pickerel’s favorite field trip experience where she gained an appreciation for the business-side of farming, “Farmer Jill Elmers is a dedicated, small-business woman in a challenging environment of hard work!” Community Coordinators also explored the gardens at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School and West Middle School, as well as Lawrence Farmers’ Market where the Market Coordinator discussed Double Up Food Bucks, a dollar for dollar matching program for SNAP benefits spent at farmers’ markets. While at the market, Community Coordinators browsed the vendors, did a little shopping and reflected on the experience and how it differs from shopping in a grocery store.

Another of the Community Coordinators’ favorite sites was Global Cafe, where owner Kate Gonzalez discussed the restaurant's dedication to keeping local food accessible and affordable. Kate shared the story of how Global Cafe came to be, the process of gathering and making their famous green chili sauce and then she graciously served up several entrees for everyone to sample. Lastly, a trip to Lawrence Community Shelter enabled the group to learn more about their kitchen and how people are fed throughout the day. While there, Community Coordinators toured the shelter’s warehouse where Drew vonEhrenkrook explained the various services the Shelter provides as well as the way in which mass donations from grocery stores are processed by the agency. 

The field trips were only the beginning of what this Sunrise team will learn as Community Coordinators; in the words of Owie, “This was only the tip of the iceberg… I want to know more!” 

Sunrise Project Engages New Voices in Food Systems Planning

Blog post written by Helen Schnoes, Douglas County Food Systems Coordinator

If there’s one thing that’s been hard to miss this summer—besides the packs of Pokemon Go-ers wandering down Mass St.—it’s that we’re in an election year. Voting is one of the core acts that we perform as citizens of our representative democracy. But, it’s certainly not the only way we make our voices heard. 

Look in the newspaper or scroll through social media and you may notice a survey asking for your input or an invitation to a town hall meeting to share your thoughts about this project or that future development plan. The folks behind these efforts want to make sure their direction follows the public interest. In fact, in Lawrence, we have over forty advisory boards to review local policy issues! 

However, there’s almost always more outreach that could be done. Voices go unheard because they didn’t have the time. The calls to participate may not reach them.  And we often hear from the very engaged citizens who comment on many community issues, so we end up hearing from only a few. This shortcoming can skew our understanding of community experiences, needs, and desires. We may miss revealing insights and creative problem solving that could point energy in new directions. Existing feelings of separation may grow. 

So, what could be done differently? Last year, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department (LDCHD) hosted a workshop with the LiveWell Lawrence coalition about this topic. Led by the national group PolicyLink, the workshop challenged participants to think outside the box about how local efforts can become more inclusive and hear from more people. PolicyLink shared examples of how changing the processes of local planning and policy creation can empower and engage often underrepresented community members. They shared that acknowledging and reducing the barriers of economic inequality and institutional racism often requires slow and intentional effort. 

That’s where Sunrise Project comes in. This local non-profit has hired nine “Community Coordinators” to work with the Douglas County Food Policy Council to collect stories and experiences around food issues. (The DCFPC is one of those 40-plus advisory boards.) Though we may not often think about it, how we produce, buy, eat, and throw away food in Douglas County impacts our economy, our health, our environment, and our local culture. Our community has asked for a strategic Food System Plan to guide future decisions made by our local leaders. The Food System Plan will establish goals and policies to improve the local food system—from farming to access to healthy food to minimizing food waste.

This summer the Community Coordinators are learning all about our local food system, including the hidden parts that most of us don’t see day to day. They are learning about how local decisions are made. They will collect stories and ask questions of their families, friends, and neighbors. The goal of this experimental project is to enhance and expand our understanding the challenges and hopes people living in Lawrence experience. In the process, we hope to go beyond surveys and town halls to integrate more perspectives and deepen what it means to engage in local planning. 
The Community Coordinators and DCFPC will host community conversations to share the results and determine the priorities to guide the Food System Plan. By early 2017, they’ll present the plan to our city and county leaders for formal adoption. 

Along the way, you can follow this series to learn with the Community Coordinators about what it means to shape our local food system—and find yet another way to make your voice heard.

-Written by Helen Schnoes, Douglas County Food Systems Coordinator 

"We are Making a Difference:" Summer of Service 2016 Culminates with Advocacy Week

Youth flyer downtown Lawrence with anti-harassment flyers they created themselves

Youth flyer downtown Lawrence with anti-harassment flyers they created themselves

Written in partnership with Luna Stephens

Sunrise Project’s Summer of Service 2016 culminated with Advocacy Week (July 18-22), a week-long project dedicated to learning about issues such as street harassment, consent and sexual assault, race and white privilege, relationship violence and a spectrum of  LGBTQI+ topics. 

“This week was more about learning” Katie Baldwin-Faling said. “You could learn those other [Summer of Service] weeks too, but this one’s more about learning about activists and causes.” Representatives from Hollaback! Lawrence, The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center, NAACP and Willow Domestic Violence Center led hands-on workshops throughout the week. 

In addition to learning, youth engaged in action as well. They took to the streets and hung flyers they created with lines such as, “I’ll wear whatever I want.” They chalked other anti-harassment and consent-based statements in front of the Lawrence Public Library: “Just because I move in public space does not mean by body IS public space.” 

Avery Carroll articulated the youth’s appreciation for the action-oriented aspects of the week, “it was nice because we were actually *actively* doing something and not just talking… we are making a difference…”

Each day of the week offered time to learn about and also discuss the range of topics. The space and time devoted to discussion was a treasured element of the week. 

“I think the biggest part was that everybody here got to share their experiences,” Aiofe Trotter reflected. “Instead of learning more about just the statistics it was really nice to hear what other people think in my community.”

 It was an eye-opening, yet fun week, with new ideas and realities presented to the youth in a laid-back and welcoming environment. 

Twelve year-old Kensington Comfort said that Advocacy Week was the “best part of my summer.” Her friend Katie Balwing-Faling reflected on the learning experiences: 

Sometimes we don’t really know that much about what’s going on in the world and if you start learning about it now and how you can help -  maybe you’ll continue thinking about that when you become an adult and have your own money… If you get involved when you’re young then you’ll keep being involved.”

Aoife learned a lot about racism, “When the NAACP came and talked to us, it just kind of opened my eyes to the racial issues, like it’s just not blatant racism all the time it’s a lot of microagressions and stuff like that."

Sunrise Project will continue to grow youth engagement programming and will offer more social justice and service-learning opportunities. In fact, the inspired youth from Advocacy Week plan to get together soon for more social justice art projects, flyering, chalking and a possible movie night that delves into a social issue they would like to learn more about. 

Know a youth that would like to participate in Sunrise Project youth programming? Contact Melissa, Director of Programs at  

Sunrise Project Connects Youth to Their Passion


Post written by Luna Stephens, Sunrise Project Youth Journalist

Animal-loving youth got the chance to get an inside look at the Humane Society July 11 through 16 through Sunrise Project's Summer of Service Program.

“We’ve been doing stuff with animals, washing dishes, laundry, making the dogs treats, taking out their bowls…” Alivia Savage said. 

The hands on work with both cats and dogs seemed to be the youth’s favorite part out of the variety of activities.  

“I really like to help with the dogs and the cats, “It feels good,” Oscar Schmidt said. 

Some youth even got to watch and assist with some surgeries, and all got to learn a bit of knowledge in dog training, so it was definitely a learning experience. Some of the youth were familiar with the shelter while some were not, but all know a lot more about it after this week.
“I like animals and I’ve never really been to many animal shelters,” Lucy Schmidt said. “It seems like they treat their animals pretty well here.”

This week was a very good representation of how Summer of Service connects youth to volunteering environments that fit with their interests, the Humane Society being a very specialized one.

Some of the youth hadn’t done much volunteering before, some had, but either way it was an experience that showed them just how fun helping out can be.

“It’s a chance to spend time with animals and make their lives a little better,” Lucy said.  

Sunrise Project connects Youth to Good Food, Community and Environment through Summer of Service

Youth help preschool children at Children's Learning Center cut veggies and make basil pesto.

Youth help preschool children at Children's Learning Center cut veggies and make basil pesto.

Written in partnership with Luna Stephens, Sunrise Project's Youth Journalist Intern.

Last week, Sunrise Project hosted youth for a Summer of Service project and gave them a chance to learn that Sunrise does much more than just Summer of Service. 

“I thought it [Sunrise Project] was just volunteering and you volunteer different places, but they have other programs” said Katie Balwin-Faling. 

Throughout the week, youth got to work with kids at Children’s Learning Center, a site that participates in Sunrise Project’s Healthy Sprouts Farm to Preschool program. As well, youth spent time at the Sunrise site (1501 Learnard, former Sunrise Garden Center), the Lawrence Community Orchard (located at 830 Garfield) - a project of their program Lawrence Fruit Tree Project and finally, a local community garden - the Garden Incubator in North Lawrence at John Taylor Park. 

Youth did a range of activities throughout the week! They cooked and gardened with preschoolers, made bee houses for the orchard, learned about access to food through a grocery store tour and painted signs for a community garden. 

Many really enjoyed getting to work hands-on with the young children at Children’s Learning Center while helping them make basil pesto and work in the center’s gardens. 

“It’s really fun and it feels like you’re actually making an impact in their lives” Madison Kuhle said. 

The youth seemed very impressed with Sunrise Project and how it operates.

“[Emily and Melissa] are really driven and they really obviously know what they’re doing,” Zoe Wohlford said. 

“I didn’t expect to feel so close to the people that are in Sunrise Project,” said Ethan Caroll,”it is almost like a kind of family.” 

This week got youth excited about Sunrise Project’s mission to connect people of all ages and backgrounds to good food, community and environment to build a socially just community. When Sunrise Project moves into their site at the former Sunrise Garden Center,  there will be even more opportunities to get engage youth in a range of service and learning opportunities.

In the words of Ethan, “I foresee that they’ll become a very prosperous thing, yeah I think the future looks pretty good for Sunrise Project!”

Sunrise Project Connects Youth to School Gardens

Max Trejo working in West Middle School's garden.

Max Trejo working in West Middle School's garden.

Written by Luna Stephens, Sunrise Project's Youth Journalist Intern

More than just doing weeding, the school gardens week of Summer of Service got youth exploring different garden sites. Going to a different site each day, youth spent time at Central, West, New York, and Woodlawn.

“I really like gardening and I didn’t really have anything else to do” Clare Peltier said.

Many of the other youth also shared a love for gardening. 

Of the three hours of project each day, about half was spent doing real garden work and the other half doing different activities.

“The other half we’d go and see something related to the garden” said Cian O’ Lear,”like the Sunrise Project site, free food orchard…”

Other activities included an exercise about finding the causes of hunger and talking about where food comes from.

O’ Lear said the time split made gardening in the heat “just the right amount of time”.

The variety of activities taught the youth different kinds of skills.

“I certainly found out how to weed, I didn’t know how to weed before” Jaden Grinnell said.

Peltier said she was able to learn what are weeds and what are not, skills she could use in her own garden at home and also got some ideas to bring to her school garden. 

“It’s great, it’s an awesome thing,” O’Lear said, referring to Summer of Service. “I might try and do some more.”

After working in Central Middle School's garden, youth took a walking field trip to the Sunrise site for a tour.

After working in Central Middle School's garden, youth took a walking field trip to the Sunrise site for a tour.

Youth Inspired to Learn and Volunteer through Summer of Service Project

One of the many things youth did at Lawrence Community Shelter & Just Food was to work in the gardens. Photo by Malka Hampton

One of the many things youth did at Lawrence Community Shelter & Just Food was to work in the gardens. Photo by Malka Hampton

Written by luna stephens

Youth connected with the community through their work at both the Lawrence Community Shelter and Just Food during Summer of Service June 20 through 24.

Of all of the activities the youth participated in throughout the week, they enjoyed bagging groceries for Just Food customers and getting to meet people at The Shelter the most, where they got to see who they were helping face to face.

“It was kind of nice to see the people that we were helping out,” Emma Jones said, “when we were at the storefront of Just Food and when we were in the Community Shelter and talking to the people.”

Many of the youth had heard of Just Food and the Shelter, but didn’t know exactly what these agencies did before they were able to get involved this week.

“I learned that I should be more grateful, Callie Knapp said. ”It just feels good that you’re getting to do this kind of help in the community, and help people who are less fortunate than you.”

While the youth may volunteer in the community in different ways, they said Summer of Service stood out in that it’s just as much a learning experience as a service to the community.

“It doesn’t just assign you a job, but it gives you more of an insight to why you’re doing it,” Aoife Trotter said. “We had a social justice activity, instead of us just helping out we figured out why the problems were happening that caused people to be homeless.”

Getting to connect with the community, meet new people, and learn makes for a rewarding experience that brings youth back to the program year after year.

“This is my first time [volunteering],” Knapp said, “but it really inspired me to want to do more.”

Aoife, Niamh, Delaney, Grace, Callie and Emma. 

Aoife, Niamh, Delaney, Grace, Callie and Emma. 

Spending Summer Break Picking Weeds and Cleaning?

Article Written by Luna Stephens. Photography by Malka Hampton

10 youth did just that during the second week of Summer of Service, June 13 through 17, while also getting a chance to learn about two local service sites, the Ballard Center and Penn House.

The projects at both sites included gardening, as well as some indoor renovation work at Penn House.

“I definitely learned hard work,” Chloe Board said. “We’ve been working really hard, and I’ve also learned that I really like picking weeds.”

Board said she lives just down the street from Ballard and has volunteered there a few times before. However, most of the volunteers, and even the project leader Bruce Eggers, had not known much about either organization prior to the project.

“ I’ve lived in Lawrence since 1993 and I’ve never been to the Ballard Center,” Eggers said. “I didn’t know what it did until I read the website and signed up for this.”

Despite going into it with little knowledge, while working at the sites everyone involved was able to learn a lot.

“I wanted to see what they did and I thought that volunteering might be a good way to see that,” Julia Myers said.

The youth have shown their curiosity and also their work ethic, coming out every day to work hard.

“It’s hard work but it’s satisfying in the end,” Anna Peard said.  

Teens often get labeled as lazy and selfish, so it’s refreshing to see these youth so excited to get out into the community and working.

“When I was a kid there’s no way I ever would have done any of this,” Eggers said. “I was only thinking about myself and what I wanted to do for fun.”

During a time with a lot of down time, Summer of Service projects like this week’s offer a rewarding chance to give back and gain knowledge.

“It’s really fun and it’s way more fun than just sitting at home being bored” Katie Baldwin-Faling said.


High Temps Don't Faze Dedicated Youth

Youth help get campsites ready at Hidden Valley. Photography by Malka Hampton

Youth help get campsites ready at Hidden Valley. Photography by Malka Hampton

Written by luna stephens

Outdoor-loving volunteers at Hidden Valley handle the temps for a rewarding experience

Youth brave the heat to give back, and learn while at it, at the Hidden Valley week of Summer of Service June 6 through 10. The week of volunteering involved preparing the campsites that Girl Scouts will use the following week.

“It just feels good to know that I’m helping out with all of the stuff for the younger girls in the community,” Grace Rockers said. “I’ve done Girl Scout camp here before, so it’s kind of nice to come back and help set it up.”

A lot goes into the work the youth are doing, work that makes having everything ready for the Girl Scout camp possible.

“I’d say I didn’t really know how much work they put in before camp started so it’s a cool experience to see,” Rockers said.

When Summer of Service is not going on, the volunteers at Hidden Valley are mostly adults.

“It used to take us a week with adult volunteers to set up out here,” said adult volunteer Karen Warner. “Now with these strong, energetic kids the work gets done a lot faster.”

While the work may be hard, the youth are obviously very capable and are also learning a lot.

I’ve learned how to use new tools, what a whole bunch of plants look like, learned about new plants” said Eliot Manning.

Manning said his favorite part was working on cutting things down and just getting the chance to work outside in general.

Conner Marsh said he’s interested in the environment and animals, and has gotten to learn a lot in that aspect during the week.

Chris Wilson and Keaton Stramberg have also learned skills like how to repair a hose, cut down a tree, and put up flags, they said.

With such a practical aspect, it’s great to see young people doing this kind of work. However, they don’t just learn outdoor skills, but lifelong skills.

“I just think it’s a great opportunity for kids to get involved in the community, they just don’t have that chance,” said Warren. “I just think the whole idea of kids being involved in their community, giving to the community, is a part of growing up. I think that if kids learn at an early age the importance of helping the community then they’ll do it when they’re older.”

Fun and learning in the outdoors! Photography by Malka Hampton

Fun and learning in the outdoors! Photography by Malka Hampton

Kicking Off a Summer of Service!

Luna Stephens interviewing youth at Summer of Service 2016 Kick Off!

Luna Stephens interviewing youth at Summer of Service 2016 Kick Off!

Article written by Luna Stephens, Sunrise Project's Youth Journalist Intern

The Summer of Service kickoff party Jun. 1 brought excited youth, both enthusiastic returners and newbies to the program.

Spanning the summer, the program allows youth ages 12 to 18 to get involved in a way that interests them, through signing up for week long projects that include everything from gardening to advocacy work.

Over 50 youth are signed up this year, which is also the first year Sunrise Project will lead the former United Way program.

“I’m really excited for the gardens,” Chloe Board said. “I  garden a lot, I garden at home and I just think that’d be really fun.”

Like Chloe, many youth want something fun to do over the summer that’s more rewarding than going to the pool or watching Netflix.

Cian O’Lear is a first time participant and will also be doing the school gardens week.

“I’m excited for this, definitely,” said Cian. “just getting out into the garden and working”  

Another newbie, Avery Carroll, will be doing the advocacy project and “figured I should probably do something this summer”.

Another great thing about Summer of Service is that it gets youth volunteering in places other than organizations they are involved in or know. Spending a week at a site like the Ballard Center or a week spending time with organizations like habitat for humanity and family promise can teach them a lot about something they may have not been familiar with beforehand.

“I think it’s just a fun thing to do in the summer”, Board said. “Meet new people and do some work.”