Danville juvenile detainees sow a better future with newfound horticulture skills

At the W. W. Moore Juvenile Detention facility in Danville, detained youths are being offered the chance at a green thumb, sponsored by Virginia Cooperative Extension. It’s an opportunity that, for some, can change the course of their future.

Jane Clardy, a former teacher and founder of the facility’s 10-week horticulture program, ran into a former detainee and student, who landed a recurring construction job but had hopes of a future in landscaping.

“He told me he always shows his horticulture certificate when he applies and is interviewed,” Clardy said of the encounter. “He told me his goal is to one day be his own boss and have a landscaping company. I smiled for two straight hours after seeing him.”

The program focuses on basic knowledge related to how plants grow, effective plant care strategies, and the importance of proper plant management practices. Holding these basic skills helps make the youth more attractive to an employer in plant nurseries, lawn care companies, and various grounds maintenance careers.

More than that, says Extension agent Stuart Sutphin, the program uses successful plant care and plant production to give the youth a sense of accomplishment and a better self-image.

“A lot of these juveniles come in here lacking confidence, just needing a jump start. That’s what the horticulture program does for them — it gives them new skills and another chance,” Sutphin said.

The program is offered in the spring and fall to post-dispositional level residents. Each week, the students spend an hour in the classroom learning about a new skill. The classwork is supported by teacher-supervised hands-on experience in a greenhouse and container plant nursery located on the facility grounds.

Because the population was low at the facility in 2015, only 13 students were able to enroll in the program. Of these students, 10 were able to successfully complete the entire program and pass the written examination given at the end.

Since these are juvenile detainees, the facility did not allow for tracking of the students after they left. However, at least two of the students in 2015 found employment with lawn care companies in the area.

“Every youth impacted by this program counts,” Sutphin said. “Each student that goes on to live a better life makes the program worthwhile.”