Ricky is standing on the west side of Wood Street Urban Farm. It’s Growing Home’s Summer Open House, where the doors of the hoophouses are open to anyone and everyone.
As the farm tours conclude, many visitors are eager to talk to a Production Assistant about their experience. Ricky is happy and comfortable, answering every question thrown at him. “Everyone here helped me to be a better guy, to open up, and to relax. I didn’t know what that was like, and I wasn’t used to anything like that before I started here.”
As a teenager, in order to take some of the burden off of his single mom, Ricky started selling drugs with a group of his friends. A few years later he began abusing the same drugs he was selling. His occupation allowed him to make money, and to take care of his habit.
“That fast money is addictive,” he says. “Having a job and waiting for a paycheck, there’s a value to that. But being in the streets is much easier.”
Shortly before starting as a Production Assistant at Growing Home, Ricky completed a 10-year prison sentence. “When I came home, I was 56 years old. I was through with the streets and the hustling and I didn’t want to sell drugs anymore. I can’t afford to go back to prison, because if I do, I’ll probably never come home. It’s a blessing that I’m here right now, but I knew I had to make a change and I knew I needed help.”
Ricky needed more than a new occupation: he had to change his life completely. “Being in prison is isolating,” he says. “In jail you know you can’t trust anyone, so even after prison I was isolated and still dealing with anger issues.” He had participated in job training programs before, but he could tell Growing Home was different from the start. “No program has ever offered me bus fare before, let alone a two-week bus pass. At first it was something small like that, that let me know this program was different.”
Growing Home’s staff helped Ricky develop habits that would help him in the workplace. “They really kept us on task. They drilled home the importance of being on time and ready to work,” he says.
In addition to job training, Growing Home helped Ricky get into a drug rehabilitation program and an anger management course. “Dealing with my anger productively, being able to be vulnerable and communicate with people again, all of that helped me come on top after graduating from the program,” Ricky says. “All I did here was try to better myself, and I was surrounded by people trying to do the same and people who really wanted to help me.”
Before securing his job at Arytza Bakeries — where he arrives to work 45 minutes early every day — Ricky had never applied or interviewed for a job. “A lot has changed,” he says, “This program helped me become a professional. I have a 401k. I have good benefits. I’m proud. My mom is proud.”
Ricky is still involved with Growing Home. He helped facilitate a class on forgiveness for our 2017 Production Assistants, and in May of 2017, he spoke at Growing Home’s Annual Benefit alongside his friends Bobby and Demetrius. The three men talked about the isolation they had experienced in their lives, and how working at Growing Home had brought them together and cultivated their sure to be lifelong friendship.
Back at Wood Street Urban Farm, the Open House is winding down. Everyone is headed home after a long, hot day. Across the street, someone pries open a fire hydrant, a precious summer tradition. Kids run through the spray while the adults watch. All of the adults, that is, but Ricky, who takes off and runs through the waterfall. When he emerges he is soaking wet but grinning from ear to ear. Someone asks if he wants a towel to dry off. “You don’t have to worry about me,” he says. “I’m good.”