Our Mission in Action

Group of volunteersWomen United and Young Leaders’ Society paired up with a United Way working group led by Joe Calinski, for a day of service on May 8. The volunteers cleaned and assisted with maintenance tasks including raking, planting seeds and harvesting fruits and vegetables at Sugg Middle School’s community garden.

This unique program addresses equity issues for ALICE families as a Title 1 school with many students facing food insecurity challenges. The garden provides tremendous hands on and classroom learning opportunities in raising food and caring for animals. Bradenton’s Sugg Middle School has been a longtime partner of United Way Suncoast with regular service opportunities to address literacy challenges as well as help support nutrition needs, all while creating greater parity for students who attend the school.

Joe Calinski, a United Way Project Leader for over 10 years, has been working with Kimberley Lough and W. D. Sugg Middle School since August 2019. Volunteering in the urban garden gives volunteers and the school an opportunity to expose young minds to agricultural education.

The work that United Way and the community do in the garden provides the students a new learning path that most students their age don’t often have. Students are exposed to wildlife (chickens, roosters, rabbits), hydroponic growing (strawberries, kale, herbs, carrots), earthbox growing (corn, potatoes, okra, tomatoes, lettuce) as well as traditional garden beds (basil, cilantro, green beans, peanuts). These experiences not only enrich the students’ lives but volunteers’ as well.

Joe has learned many new skills and even has two earthboxes with tomatoes and peppers growing right now. He shares, “Diverse learning helps CULTIVATE young minds that GROW into amazing people. (Gardening puns intended.) Manatee County has provided me with so much and I truly believe in providing a hand up as much as I can for those in need.”

Thank you to all who have volunteered at Sugg Middle. To learn more about how to volunteer with United Way Suncoast, contact wu@uwsuncoast.org.