We Raise Grant “Nourishes” Program Participants and Leaders

Andrea joined Mill Village Farms’ job and life skills classes for at-risk youth in 2015; that summer, she was hired to work at Mill Village Farms. Empowered by her job opportunity, Andrea became an advocate for the program, encouraging others in the community to get involved and serving as a resource for new students and Mill Village staff.

Dan Weidenbenner, executive director of Mill Community Ministries, the parent non-profit organization of Mill Village Farms, which is located in Greenville, S.C., has a vision to transform the lives of area youth who struggle to prosper in an under-resourced community. Their Job and Life Skills Training Program employs youth ages 14-18 to work at the farms, training them, and empowering them with practical, hands-on soft skills that prepare them for success in higher education and the workforce. At the same time, the organization is transforming vacant properties into bountiful gardens, growing locally sourced produce for communities known as “food deserts.”

Weidenbenner received a We Raise Foundation Emerging Leader Grant in early 2018 to support and expand the Mill Village Farm program. The grant included value-added services like capacity-building funds, which allowed Weidenbenner to purchase donor management software. It also included leadership development opportunities, including connection with a non-profit consultant and coach, who helped with fundraising and developing board governance. Weidenbenner was also able to establish supportive relationships through We Raise’s Emerging Leader Convening last summer.

“Because of We Raise, I have grown as a leader by learning to better understand my specific strengths and weaknesses,” Weidenbenner says. “Furthermore, the Convening was an incredible resource to connect with like-mind non-profit and ministry leaders across the country.”

In the summer of 2018, 30 youth participated in the job and life skills program. In addition to working on the farms, they participated in college tours to learn about educational programs related to sustainability and environmental work, and field trips to explore companies and non-profits working in the field. Twenty more youth participated in the fall of 2018 programming, hearing from life coaches, employees, and educators who shared their experiences and encouraged youth to set goals and create clear actions plans for their future.

Because of Mill Village Farms, Andrea gained the skills and confidence to move forward in her life. After graduating high school, she began working full time at a downtown restaurant. But her mentors at Mill Village noticed that she missed the deadline to enroll in college to get her associate degree—a dream she had shared with them.

They learned her biggest roadblock to attending college was reliable transportation. Although she had saved up enough money to purchase a used car, Andrea didn’t have a driver’s license and she needed a mentor to teach her how to drive. And Mill Village Farms’ folks made it happen.

“This experience taught us how important it is to listen to the needs of our youth,” Weidenbenner said. “We are excited to report that Andrea secured her driver’s license and a personal vehicle and is on a journey towards individual success.”

Through the generosity and support of We Raise donors, Greenville, S.C., youth participating in Mill Village Farm’s program are moving in the right direction for success. Because of you, leaders like Dan Weidenbenner are equipped for the journey of leading a successful nonprofit and transforming his community. Thank you.

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