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Leah working in the garden

Planting Roots in Chester

Leah Kara, ’15, PysD, has always been passionate about gardening, nutrition, and positive youth development. As a recipient of the Neubauer Family Scholarship, Kara was able to combine her interests to establish a community garden project with families in Chester.

The Neubauer scholarship is awarded annually to one exceptional and highly motivated incoming doctoral student of the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology who wishes to enhance his or her academic experience through applied psychology by implementing a community-based project.

“Without this scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to attend Widener,” Kara said. “I am grateful for the experience to have not only attended Widener and benefited from a number of clinical opportunities, but also for establishing a sustainable project in the city of Chester with such an amazing organization.”

Along with the guidance of her advisor, Dr. Hal Shorey, associate professor of clinical psychology, Kara developed a curriculum that used a garden as a vehicle to help children and adolescents learn a positive, future-oriented way of thinking. By first learning to set and achieve measurable goals for the garden, students are then taught how they can apply such transferable skills to help set goals for their future. Older students in the program work with younger students to help them establish steps to achieve their goals. Lessons are focused around using in-season vegetables to provide ways to cook produce the young gardeners bring home.

The program was established in partnership with Results Academic Institute, a program coordinated by the Word Walking Empowerment Church, which aims to provide parents and children opportunities to learn about math and science.

Over the past three years, with the support of Kara, the families involved with Results have been able to streamline the goal setting process and have garden maintenance and harvest days, as well as workshops designed both for students and families.

As Kara transitions from student to school psychologist at St Gabriel's Hall in Audubon, Pennsylvania, Christian Matthews, director of Results, will assist in maintaining the garden project. Kara is ambivalent about leaving.

“I feel so connected here,” she said. “I don’t want to leave – I’ve had a chance to build strong mentor relationships with the children. I always knew it would end, but it has been a life changing experience watching a piece of the children’s lives change.”