From Pandemic to Planting: Club Garden Grows Youth Life Skills in Kentucky

Today’s Club Story is by BGCA’s Senior Writer & Editor Emme Raus, and comes from the NEW storytelling section on, Behind the Blue Door. We LOVE sharing what YOU are doing in Boys & Girls Clubs across the Movement and are so excited to have a new platform to do so! Learn more about Behind the Blue Door at the end of this post.

Since opening in 2007, Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson has done whatever it takes to address the needs of young people in their community — from supplying school shoes and providing tutors to combating food insecurity and supporting youth sports. That commitment didn’t change during the pandemic, they simply got more creative in letting families know that the Club is still there for them.

I think COVID helped parents learn more about us because we didn’t go away. We were out in the community, getting our name out. We read bedtime stories; we delivered Easter eggs. When parents saw the need and how we were able to help them, that really helped us grow.
Lydia Latham, Board Member, Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson

To stay in touch with parents, Club staff volunteered to deliver school lunches, going door to door to talk with families and grow their understanding of how best to support their kids. If kids needed homework help, Club staff hopped online into the evening to assist. They recorded and uploaded science projects and hosted virtual events on Facebook and Instagram to help kids stay connected with friends. 

Prior to COVID-19, Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson served more than 300 young people a day with over 30% of students in school systems actively participating. That number dropped to 62 in 2021, but after their robust virtual and community support during the pandemic, nearly 400 youth were coming back into the Club just one year later.

We care about the whole child and their families. We’re not just here to care for them between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. We care about them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tye Burkow, CEO, Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson

Growing Healthy Habits & Entrepreneurship

To learn more about the farming community they live in, Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson’s board saw great value in helping youth understand more about where their food came from. The Club began partnering with donors who allowed the Club to use their unused land around town as garden patches before their board purchased land across the street from their main site. 

The onsite garden quickly became a youth favorite, enabling younger members to try new foods, develop cooking skills, and grow and sell vegetables at their own farmstand.

They love preparing the recipes and can’t wait to make them at home. They enjoy learning, teaching and working in the garden. They think it’s the coolest thing to know what’s going on in the garden.
Ally Clay, Director of Operations, Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson

As the garden grew – both in size and popularity – the Club hired a garden coordinator to help kids plant, maintain and harvest a variety of produce, from tomatoes to cucumbers to squash. The Club also partners with local extension services to help kids cook what they grow into healthy, easy-to-make recipes, like salsas and wraps. 

In addition to taking home fresh produce to their families, Club youth are able to invest the dollars they earn from the farmstand into special activities and treats. They raised $700 last summer, which was used to purchase items for a water week at the Club plus free ice cream.

Engaging Past & Current Generations

With the garden club and farmstand bringing in plenty of younger kids, Franklin-Simpson Club staff are now setting their sights on engaging teens in their community. New teen workforce opportunities and certifications are on the horizon as well as partnerships with local tech colleges. In the meantime, they maintain strong relationships with Club alumni who frequently come back to donate their time and services to the next generation.

We enjoy being impactful in our community. We had a former Club kid who became a staff member go off to barbering school and came back to provide free haircuts to Club kids. That was his way of giving back and he was able to put smiles on our kids’ faces while helping families with back-to-school haircuts.
Ally Clay, Director of Operations, Boys & Girls Club of Franklin-Simpson

This story originally appeared on Behind the Blue Door.

Read more stories like this plus Q&As with Club leaders and spotlights on Clubs experiencing growth on Behind the Blue Door, available exclusively on

What special programs do your youth love? How do you serve your community in creative ways? Let us know by commenting below, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or by emailing

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