The newly built garden at Stone Soup Fresno on April 14, 2017. A team of Alternative Spring Break students spent three days (April 10-13) on the project that included a maintenance continuation from last year’s Alternative Spring Break project at Stone Soup and the creation of their own irrigation and pipes from scratch. The project also included interactive activities for children and families. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)

Students step up for community building

Several Fresno State students spent their spring break developing a community garden at Stone Soup Fresno, an organization that strives for positive change in Southeast Asian refugee families.

The students are part of Fresno State’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB), a program that gives students a chance to give back while also having fun and enjoying each other’s company throughout the weeklong break.

Team leader Marisa Gutierrez, an English education major, said, “I wanted to do something meaningful for spring break. Usually, I enjoy the first few days of a break and then start to get bored or restless.”

Gutierrez said the program allows her to channel her energy toward something positive.

The four-day long process consisted of digging a trench for the irrigation system, building the planter boxes, installing pipes, filling in the trench, deciding where the planter boxes will go and filling the boxes with compost.

It is up to the families and community to decide which vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers will be planted in the boxes.

Gutierrez said, “The final day, we attached all of the drip lines that will irrigate the garden.”

According to the organization’s website, one of its goals is to ensure the youth are staying true to their roots.

“Bridging the best of both worlds, they are retaining and integrating cultural heritage as they strengthen their skills for leadership in everyday life,” stated the website.

First year ASB member Shelby Miller, a kinesiology exercise science major, said the purpose of creating a garden was to invite Hmong community members to come to Stone Soup and be able to create a hobby of gardening with others in the community.

Miller said she felt it was important for her to get involved with a community she is unfamiliar with.

“I got to learn about the Hmong community, which was new to me,” Miller said.

The best part of the project, Miller said, was the collaboration of the team to put together a project that none of the members had any experience in.

“We were able to design and implement the garden together by using each other’s ideas,” Miller said. “With a lot of hard work and determined attitudes, we got a lot done in a short amount of time that will hopefully last for generations.”

Mai Kou Vang, liberal studies major who participated in her first ASB project, said participating in it helped her learn leadership skills.

“I learned to be a leader and be out there – such as putting yourself in front, standing out and not being afraid to voice your opinion,” Vang said. “I really want Fresno State students to take their time out of their day and volunteer to see that it is great to give back to the community.”

One of the organization’s values is extending and uniting generations of families by maintaining traditions through culture, dance, gardening and cultivation.

Gutierrez said that because parents will work during the day, often-times children are looked after by their grandparents.

“The garden is a space for the grandparents to work in and interact with the kids, which will hopefully boost attendance at the preschool at Stone Soup,” Gutierrez said.

Miller said the goal of the project is to welcome grandparents in the Hmong community to come to Stone Soup Fresno and create a gardening tradition with their grandchildren.

“We hope that the grandparents will bring along young ones who can partake in the preschool and education programs that Stone Soup has to offer,” Miller said. “I hope to see this plan become a success in the future.”