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New summer program in Eureka teaches children about sustainable living

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EUREKA- A new summer program in Eureka is teaching children how to live off the land. 

The SEEDS Program, which is funded through federal, private and non-profit sources, was created in January as an after-school program for children ages six to 11 in West Eureka. 

"Every year, Westside Community Improvement Association has an evening that's called, 'Community Created Jefferson,' and in Community Created Jefferson, we bring the community together and ask, 'What do you need? What are your concerns? And how can we be of service?'  And over and over, what's come up is the need for child care and the need for access to healthy food,” said Heidi Benzonelli, the President of the Westside Community Improvement Association.

So the SEEDS Program arrived, but as summer came, members of the non-profit organization saw a need for a free, safe environment for kids.

"Some of the organized summer programs are a long way away or they cost a lot of money,” Benzonelli said.

Just over a week ago, Summer SEEDS began.  The program is held at Jefferson Park and Community Center and ends in late August, with children focusing on a new area of learning every week. This week’s theme is space.

"School is out and so they're not learning that stuff every day.  And just because we're on summer break doesn't mean we're on a break from learning," said Benzonelli.

But the main lesson kids learn is the importance of sustainable living.

"We have realized that access to affordable, fresh food on the West Side is an issue, so we have a goal in ten years to have food security on the west side and hunger on the west side to no longer be an issue.  And we're doing that through teaching gardening, teaching harvesting, teaching food preservation, and also through our produce distribution," Benzonelli said.

Kids in the program say they've learned plenty from planting and tending the garden.

"About other kinds of plants I never knew about and how to help water them and stuff," said Chaden Maassen, who is six years old.

Children also say they have a sense of pride from the hard work they’ve put in.

"It makes me feel proud because other people are eating it and they like it," said Clark Green, who is seven years old.

"I think some of the things that are really awesome are when the kids ask us for the recipes or ask their parents to get the recipes because I know what that means is that they've grown the food, they've prepared the food, they've eaten it and they like it and they want to take it back home.  So it's translating into a change in the home," said Benzonelli.

Enrollment will increase on July 7th, when the Boys and Girls Club of the Redwoods provides the program with two additional employees.  For more information about Summer SEEDS, visit www.jefferson-project.org , or call the West Side Community Improvement Association at (707) 497-6280.