Think of this as our front porch, and you’ve just asked, “What is Kid Cultivators all about?”
To answer your question, we might point to one of our gardens and say that’s pretty much what we’re about, except instead of our focus being on the food (although we’re pretty good at producing that), WE GROW KIDS by involving them in the ancient sustainable practices of gardening, homeschooling, storytelling, neighboring and provisioning.
More comprehensively, our mission and vision is to promote practices, sponsor systems and coordinate collaborations of sustainability that remind youth and the adults who pour into their lives of time-honored ways of being human with the hope of…
- seeing youth grow into healthy, wholesome, balanced, intelligent and mature adults committed to making positive contributions to society.
- seeing those adults who most regularly touch the lives of youth encouraged, energized and educated to pour into the lives of kids only that which is life-affirming.
- seeing the common disaffection between kids, adults and nature transformed into relationships of mutual nourishment.
The program through which our mission is expressed and our vision is achieved has evolved over the years, but the basic impetus of growing kids remains the same.
If you were to ask to hear our story, after offering you a glass of lemonade or iced tea, we would say we started as a tiny charity with an overly religious name organized to support our founder Melvin Bray‘s experiments at leadership and character education in his public school classroom in the late-’90s.
That was about the time character and leadership were gaining traction as key components in the public education of children. Eventually Melvin left the classroom, taking the series of workshops he had written, called Successful Living, on the road. It didn’t take long before Melvin figured out that the name Kingdom Come was a bit too heavenly minded to be of much earthly good in organizing support from a primarily public donor and client base for service in mainly a non-religious context (this was before the public rise in prominence of faith-based organizations). So he convinced the board to rename the organization Kid Cultivators.
This was still a good five years before the obvious association was made between our name and the idea of growing food. That only came with the opportunity to research and develop a home-school methodology meant for later use with a rehabilitation initiative for kids from crisis situations. The most unlikely turn of events brought our homeschoolers to the Glover Family Farm as weekly volunteers. But something magical began to happen there as students began following Skip and Cookie Glover around, digging their hands in the dirt and learning about organic processes and natural rhythms. All of a sudden, the things being discussed in the academic portions of the program–though often not directly correlated to what was happening down on the farm–began to make more sense. A student clinically diagnosed with ADD since early childhood began to be able to self-regulate and significantly reduce his medication dependency. Another in his teens, reading on a first grade level and ready to drop out of school, began to make reading gains that he no longer believed were possible. Students with fears of everything from dogs to worms to water to new challenges began to see these things for the adventures they are. And the realization of the promise our name held became apparent. We finally knew not only who we were, but now how best to communicate all the other things like leadership and character and life skills, etc, to the kids we cared about so deeply.
Author Richard Louv might find this type of transformation and coming into one’s own from time spent in nature a forgone conclusion. He argues in his book, Last Child in the Woods, that most children suffer from what he calls “Nature Deficit Disorder,” a metaphorical rather than clinical term suggesting that there is a measurable cost associated with the disconnect between millennials and the natural world. Louv has documented that once connection is re-established amazing things often happen. Our story stands as a testament to this truth.
So here we are, still plugging away. Many organizations focus solely on the development of the external marketability of youth, whereas our primary focus is the cultivation of internal goods that spawn profitable practices. Other organizations seek to distract kids from doing wrong by simply occupying their time; we would much rather compel kids toward the right by demonstrating in the work we do together the merit of sustainable choices. We plan to keep at it, and hope you might join us in creating ever new opportunities for kids to grow, whether the kids you help are your own or someone else’s.
Melvin Bray is founder and director of Kid Cultivators. Melvin is also an Emmy® award-winning storyteller, writer, educator and social entrepreneur embedded with his wife, three kids, two dogs and innumerable worms in the West End neighborhood of southwest Atlanta, Georgia. He is an active member of several vanguard networks working to cultivate more sustainable approaches to life, including Faith Forward and the Wild Goose Festival. He is contributing author to The Audacity of Faith (Judson Press, 2009) and Faith Forward: Dialogue on Children, Youth & a New Kind of Christianity (Woodlake Publishing, 2013), which he co-edited, contributing editor to Sojourners Magazine, coordinating author of The Stories in which We Find Ourselves and on occasion whittles away at a novel he’s been writing forever. On his favorite work days, Melvin gardens with kids and adults, helping them discover what nature has to teach about life well lived.
Leslie Bray is a veteran elementary educator who spent ten years in the classroom before coming home to educate her own children. While in the classroom, she spearheaded a type of elementary magnet program (or school-within-a-school) that provided a level of structure and accountability that eventually had lowest-skilled students competing with students in what were then known as “full potential” classrooms. Before leaving the formal classroom, Leslie received her masters degree with an emphasis on differentiated reading instruction. She has taken her skills of differentiated instruction and community organizing into her work as a homeschooling mom of three, and shares those skills with other homeschooling parents with whom she has built a thriving ecosystem for growing kids, Kid Cultivators Homeschooling Community.
Tywane Owens is a certified Recreation Specialist and Leisure Professional and worked for over 12 years as a Behavior Management Specialist before coming home to raise her children. Tywane has been an unschooler for more than ten years, but is now following a more traditional approach with her three teens as she prepares them for college and/or their chosen career paths. Tywane has an special knack for helping families identify what works best for them and helps them implement those things as a part of their life-learning strategy. She is always looking for ways to show others how life can and should be integrated. Tywane co-leads the Kid Cultivators Homeschooling Community.
Aljosie Aldrich Knight has spent the past half century working on the vital tasks of bringing individuals and communities together across racial, cultural and national boundaries. Beginning as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo, West Africa in the 1960’s, she has served as researcher, teacher, librarian, activist, and organizer. She is deeply concerned and highly skilled in the development of young people who can make significant contributions to the advancement of a spiritually-grounded, compassionate and just multicultural America. In 1970, she co-founded, along with other concerned parents, Learning House, a culturally affirming school serving African-American families. For the more than 40 years since, she has remained an advocate for children and families, beginning in the places she has called home (Cartersville and Atlanta, GA, as well as East Lansing, MI) and slowly expanding her attention internationally. She currently serves as a servant-leader with the National Council of Elders and Kid Cultivators, which among other activities includes research and strategic partnership development.