2018 Wall Award winners to build school greenhouse, start intergenerational program

Jennifer Kulik ’94
    Jennifer Kulik ’94

Oct. 23, 2018 — Jennifer Kulik ’94 was moved to tears the first time she was in a classroom where older adults and young people were brought together to share stories and learn from one another.

“I witnessed the power of generations connecting,” she says. “That experience shifted my teaching, curriculum development, and research to focus on intergenerational programs.I started Silver Kite Community Arts to help bring intergenerational arts experiences to older adults in our community, many of whom have little social interaction, visitors, and hope.”

Kulik and Chad (Blietz) Darby ’88 are the recipients of Grinnell College’s 2018 Joseph F. Wall ’41 Alumni Service Award. Each will use the $30,000 award to launch programs benefiting their respective communities in the Pacific Northwest.

Chad (Blietz) Darby ’88
Chad (Blietz) Darby ’88

Kulik will create an intergenerational program partnering youth with five senior living communities in Seattle. Darby’s project will build and develop a commercial-quality greenhouse for an elementary school outside of Portland.

During Grinnell College’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1996, the Wall Award was established as a tribute to the College’s 150-year tradition of social commitment. The award was named in honor of Joseph Wall ’41, professor of history and longtime dean of the College, who inspired an ideal of social responsibility in his students.

Each year, a committee composed of alumni, faculty, and a student choose up to two alumni award recipients and award the $30,000 prizes to either jump-start or complete a project that shows creativity and commitment to effecting positive social change.

Darby, a principal air quality consultant at Maul Foster & Alongi, founded Neighbors Nourishing Communities (NNC) after reading about the poverty problem where he lives in Tualatin, Oregon. NNC aims to ensure everyone has opportunity to access healthy, nutritious food. The organization gives home gardeners all of the seeds and plants for their gardens in exchange for 20 percent of their produce, which is donated to the Tualatin Schoolhouse Pantry, the senior center, and individual families in need.

Darby also helped Bridgeport Elementary School set up a community garden. The students raise produce for personal consumption and to donate to the pantry. About 900 pounds of produce has been donated this year.

Students huddle around a demonstration of how to make smoothies from fresh produce.
Students huddle around a demonstration on making smoothies from fresh produce.

“The local climate in Tualatin is such that produce grows easily during the summer when school is not in session,” Darby says. “Few vegetables are actually harvestable during the school months. A greenhouse would allow students to grow produce year-round.”

Work on the greenhouse is slated to begin in January and be completed by June. It will be large enough to accommodate an entire class.

“The experiences that will be made possible as a result of the greenhouse will quite literally bring learning to life for our students who might otherwise be exposed to some concepts only in theory or in a less practical, meaningful way,” says Bridgepoint Elementary Principal Jordan Mills.

Darby said working in the greenhouse will teach students many skills in nursery operations, seed starting, plant care, and improving yield.

“At the same time that we have a crisis of hunger and poverty in much of the United States, children are becoming less and less familiar with the sources of their food and the methods used to produce it,” he says.

Students look over their tomato plants as part of the program created by Neighbors Nourishing Communities.
Students pose with tomato plants grown as part of the Neighbors Nourishing Communities programs.

It also will have a tangible effect on curing hunger problems in Tualatin. About 52 percent of the Bridgeport students qualify for free and reduced price lunches. Much of what will be produced can go to a student backpack program, where food-insecure students, who might otherwise go without meals, are given a backpack of food for the weekend.

Similar to Darby, Kulik saw a community need and started an organization to address it. Silver Kite Community Arts specializes in creating intergenerational arts programs and arts experiences for older adults. All of the arts programs use life stories as a source for art making.

With the Wall Award prize, Silver Kite is partnering with Sustainable Housing for the Ageless Generation (SHAG), a Washington nonprofit of affordable rental apartment communities for low- and moderate-income seniors. The program will be piloted in 5 different SHAG communities in the south part of Seattle.

“Based on feedback and learnings gleaned from the pilot programs, we will create an intergenerational program toolkit, which can be used by other SHAG and senior living communities to implement their own version of the program,” Kulik says.

The pilot project started this month and will last until October 2019.

SHAG residents can serve as adult mentors, and share their wisdom, experiences, and knowledge. Research has shown providing that engagement boosts self-confidence, self-esteem, and can instill a new passion for the third act of life, Kulik said.

“The project will also benefit the youth participating, including a possible shift in young people’s perception of aging, an introduction to the possibility of working with older generations as a career option, being mentored, and reflecting upon their relationships with older generations in their families,” Kulik says.

Since 1996, the Wall Award has been presented to 50 individuals who have contributed over $1 million and their time and talents to 44 diverse projects throughout the United States and in five other countries.

—By Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

Grinnell College will begin taking applications for 2019 Wall Service Award projects in January. Check out the Wall Awards web page for additional information and a list of recent winners.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.