The seeds of Project Hope were planted in 2004, when local activists gathered to tackle the issue of gang prevention. Those conversations, which included West Central residents Patrick and Connie Malone, led to the formal organization of Project Hope and a commitment to re-launch an initiative called God’s Gym at Salem Lutheran Church on west Broadway. The next year, Project Hope was formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization, and began an initiative for “green collar jobs,” an idea inspired by, among others, Father Greg Boyle, and his work with Homeboy/Homegirl Industries in Los Angeles; the vision of “green collar jobs” was to create environmentally friendly and restorative entrepreneurial opportunities for youth at risk of gang involvement in the West Central. The concept of “green pathways out of poverty” led to the launch of several current Project Hope programs, including Riverfront Farm, and West Central Lawn Care. Initial garden beds were constructed in the neighborhood, and with help from neighbors, volunteers, and local youth, the first urban farm project began.
The idea was, and continues to be, that training area youth in the summer, when there are fewer structured activities for youth to connect to, would not only provide valuable job skills, but give participants a sense of pride and ownership in their community, and engage them in understanding that they have the power to create their own community.
Over the next few years, Project Hope grew to include several farm lots scattered throughout the neighborhood, developed the West Central Marketplace to help provide further job training for participants and much-needed access to fresh fruits and vegetables for area residents, and expanded lawn care service to include low-income residents and several commercial properties. Many of our farm plots began as overgrown debris-fields, littered with rocks, broken glass, and knee-high weeds. Project Hope participants learn to test and amend the soil, to construct and irrigate beds and planting rows, plant seeds, tend the plants, and on the whole, convert unused space into thriving gardens.
Supported by founders like Patrick and Connie, active donors, hundreds of volunteers, local business partners, and foundations, Project Hope hired its first employees in 2013, in the form of an Executive Director and an Operations Manager. The summer program continues to be the main initiative of Project Hope, and brings 25 to 30 participants between the ages of 11 and 18 onto the farm to learn a variety of farming and business-related skills. In 2013, Project Hope partnered with West Central Episcopal Mission to expand training to include scratch cooking techniques, so that participants get a full seed-to-table experience. With the help of the board and staff, summer curricula were expanded into the spring and fall seasons, which, since 2010, have provided opportunities for youth leadership training. Spring and fall participants are selected based on their applications and interviews, and often become youth leaders for the summer program, modeling proper workplace behaviors for their peers. Since 2010, select participants have also been asked to become members of Project Hope’s board of directors.
2013 was a huge year for Project Hope. During the 2013 growing and market seasons, Project Hope harvested over 2000 pounds of food from plots that were planted, tended, and picked by the youth of West Central and Emerson Garfield. That food was sold at the West Central Marketplace and at the Thursday Market in the Perry District. With the help of partners like Vinegar Flats Farms, the Marketplace continues to provide valuable access to healthy food for low-income residents by accepting both Washington State EBT, as well as WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers. West Central Lawn Care mowed over 200 lawns, helping to beautify the neighborhood. Through the funding of the United Way’s Bold Goals Initiative, Project Hope launched Growing Hope, with partners at the Community School, West Central Episcopal Mission, and Whitworth University’s Service Learning program. Students supported through the Growing Hope program are placed according to interests as interns at local businesses and organizations, and receive school credit, as well as a training stipend from Project Hope.
Project Hope Spokane believes that all youth have gifts to develop and share with their community. Project Hope looks forward to continuing to be able to work with youth to understand their vital role in shaping their world.