ICS + Homeward Bound of Marin

How ICS and Homeward Bound are partnering to expand our impact on the people we serve.

Integrated Community Services’ GEM garden program and Homeward Bound of Marin have built a flourishing partnership that provides paid job training for people with disabilities while increasing the benefits of a garden that serves people experiencing homelessness in Marin.

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The partnership began in October 2018 after GEM received seed funding from Federal Home Loan Banks to revitalize underused garden space at Homeward Bound’s Novato campus. GEM had outgrown its location in San Rafael and having a second site would allow the program to serve more individuals with disabilities, teach new work skills, sell more produce in the community and donate their surplus goods to Homeward Bound’s kitchen.

“We realized that the garden had underutilized space. Working with GEM has been a great collaboration that serves another community partner and helps create a real culture of learning in the garden. There’s some crossover between our clients, so their participants seem to enjoy being here and everyone has been really happy with the results. 

- Paul Fordham, Homeward Bound Deputy Director

Homeward Bound’s garden originally opened in 2000 as part of New Beginnings Center, which serves 80 adults with housing-focused shelter services. Homeward Bound has relied on their garden supervisor David Jordan, skilled volunteers and rotating local groups to grow produce for shelter meals and ingredients for the Fresh Starts Culinary Academy job-training program. Knowing the garden could be used more intensively, Homeward Bound welcomed the chance to share their space with a fellow nonprofit that also fosters self-sufficiency and resilience.

Today, GEM participants head to Homeward Bound two times per week. It was an exciting experience for participants to start a garden from scratch; forming the rows, building nutritious soil and planting the seeds that would grow into a lush garden bursting with colorful flowers and delicious vegetables. Both teams have been able to share their expertise throughout the process and they continue to work closely together now that the garden is thriving.

“Their approach to the garden brings a new element with the flowers, which is not something that we grow. It makes it look like more of a pleasure garden with the sunflowers and other flowers. Every time they come out, I learn something, too. They have a lot of knowledge that they share. I like the way they organize what they’re going to do before they get here. When they walk in the gate, they get right to it.”

- David Jordan, Homeward Bound Garden Supervisor

Recently, the partnership between GEM and Homeward Bound expanded. One of the primary ways that GEM distributes what it grows is through a CSA program, which now offers Wagster dog treats as an add-on. Wagster Treats are made at Homeward Bound by students and graduates of the Fresh Starts Culinary Academy, a job-training program that equips homeless and low-income adults with the skills needed to successfully re-enter the workforce. This collaboration has delighted GEM’s CSA customers and increased both organizations’ impact on the individuals who they serve.

The 21 GEM participants who have worked at the Homeward Bound garden so far have truly enjoyed this partnership. The layout of the garden promotes teamwork, so participants work closely alongside their coworkers, moving together towards a common goal while learning valuable skills in collaboration and communication. Because the Homeward Bound garden can be reached by public transportation, the partnership promotes independence for participants, who gain pride and confidence by traveling on their own to and from work. The garden has equipped participants with transferable skills that will prepare them for employment across sectors.

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Homeward Bound has also invited the GEM team into their community, generously offering lunch in their cafeteria where clients and staff from both organizations can get to know each other. Since a number of GEM participants and staff members have lived or worked at Homeward Bound, there are sweet reunions and greetings with old friends and colleagues. 

 “I worked at Homeward Bound in 2017 and knew gardener Dave. It was nice working there because I learned skills such as electric, janitorial, painting and gardening. People at Homeward Bound are friendly and nice to talk to when I go back to work with GEM. My favorite part about working at Homeward Bound is weeding and planting.” 

- Manuel Saravia, GEM Participant

Learn more about Homeward Bound of Marin on their website and Facebook.