top of page
  • Writer's pictureElisabeth Gasparka

Teens Grow Greens Cultivates Youth Growth + Development Beyond the Greenhouse


Teens sit at the Washington Park Bandshell, looking at phones and pointing cameras
Photo courtesy Teens Grow Greens

With spring at full tilt, it’s easy to get excited about all the plant life budding and blossoming in Milwaukee’s natural areas and urban gardens. Even for those without green thumbs, the activity of gardening has many documented benefits for physical and mental health. Gardening also teaches strategy, patience, adaptability and resilience. Cultivating and caring for plants can generate a feeling of efficacy, pride, and self-sufficiency.  It's also an activity that can be done in community, and for community. And people of all ages can enjoy its positive benefits... even teenagers.  


A young person holds a rose up to the camera inside the greenhouse, smiling with her gaze looking away
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

This was part of the premise behind the establishment of the organization Teens Grow Greens back in 2014. In the early days, the nonprofit org was focused on connecting Milwaukee area youth to accessible, inclusive garden-based learning and mentorship opportunities, giving young people hands-on training in the entrepreneurial and horticultural skills needed for being responsible for green house plants, selling plants, and collaborating with partner organizations. But, like a well-tended garden bed (sorry, had to!), over the last decade, the seeds of TGG have taken root and it’s transformed into an organization that stands out within Milwaukee’s cultural landscape as an inclusive professional development pipeline. They have done so by embracing change, nurturing an abundance of meaningful collaborations with simpatico nonprofit organizations, and by listening to the needs of teens and aligning those needs with staff talent. Today, the young people who join TGG are encouraged to be their best selves, expand their skillsets, stay curious and creative, and make meaningful connections and contributions to their communities through a diverse range of activities. 


A smiling young person holds plants inside the Webers Greenhouse
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

Tactically, the TGG of today supports learning in the realms of business and personal finance, the culinary arts, community-building, marketing, and collaboration—and yes, horticulture, too. Through a range of apprenticeships, internships, and employment opportunities, these days, you may see teens from TGG collaborating with Escuela Verde in the school’s garden and Newline Café, or taking professional quality headshots and event photos at cultural events.  


Under the leadership of marketing director and apprenticeship manager Kelly Michael Anderson—a standout Milwaukee media maker who has been documenting culture and telling stories through film in this city for more than fifteen years—many of the teens are focused on cultivating experience and skills to produce high-quality media for marketing.  I spoke with Anderson to learn about how the programming at Teens Grow Greens fosters growth for Milwaukee youth, today.  


Kelly poses at Washington Park Media Center with a camera, in front of a colorful painted backdrop.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Michael Anderson

In your own words: what is Teens Grow Greens? 


Teens Grow Greens is an MKE youth development nonprofit in its 10th year of operation. We offer paid internships and apprenticeships for MPS students that provide transferable life and career skills that teens can utilize in high school and their post-secondary education and burgeoning career paths. We aim to educate teens in fields that many public school programs don’t provide, such as financial literacy, culinary training, urban gardening, and entrepreneurship, as well as marketing and media training. TGG owns and operates a garden center on Green Bay Avenue called Webers Greenhouse which is staffed by our Horticulture Apprenticeship team, with all plants and flowers grown by our teens. Stop by! 


Students and young people pose in front of a large sign at Webers Greenhouse
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

How does TGG serve the needs of young people?  


Young people are looking for options and opportunities in high school and after they graduate. Often the expectation for young adults is to attend university or enter the workforce immediately after graduation. TGG illuminates the multitude of opportunities young adults can pursue and promotes exploration and experimentation in many pathways beyond the university system. We encourage them to discover their passions and define their desires before entering post-secondary education. 


TGG messaging says the organization is focused on responding to the desires of young people. What do today’s teens desire? 


Teens desire options and access to opportunities! It seems they are often guided toward the traditional lane of going immediately from high school to college. We hope through engaging with Teens Grow Greens that they have more opportunities to explore all sorts of areas of work and passions before being pressured to decide what they foresee for their futures. They also desire a sense of belonging, identity, and purpose. Our goal is to help them cultivate all of those desires before they graduate from high school. 


A student smiles holding a camera in one hand and making a peace sign with the other at Washington Park Media Center
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

Which are the organizations you work with to activate apprenticeship and internship opportunities? 


We have many lovely community partners! Our Entrepreneurship Apprenticeship team works closely with Newline Cafe and much of our internship and apprenticeship programming is hosted out of this cafe as well as its neighbor, Escuela Verde. They have been integral partners and hosts of our work. The Marketing Apprenticeship I lead is hosted at Washington Park Media Center, owned and operated by Wes Tank and Sara Daleiden of Tankthink Media and

MKE <-> LAX. Amongst many other community orgs, we work closely with PEAK Initiative, FoodRight, Westlawn Gardens, Milwaukee Bucks Community, and have been supported by many orgs including Imagine MKE!  


How many teens do you typically work with across all of TGG programs in a year? 


Today, we have 25 Apprentices in our 4 Apprenticeship tracks (Marketing, Horticulture, Education, and Entrepreneurship) and at any given time support another 30 (In the summer 60) or so interns across our 3 (and now 4 with the inauguration of our newest summer internship: Leading the Way: Exploring and Rethinking Milwaukee) 3-month internship programs: Leading My Life: Healthy Choices and Culinary Training, Leading for Justice: Food Sovereignty and Urban Gardening, and Leading Through Creativity: Developing Your Own Business. 


Is there a double meaning to “greens”?  


TGG started 10 years ago as an urban agriculture program for MKE teens. In its 10 years we have developed our programming to support much, much more. The "Greens" in TGG represents the budding of many aspects of a young person's life, from interpersonal and emotional growth, to career skill development, to financial growth, and much more. 


What kind of feedback do you hear from the teens themselves? 


The teens often tell us that these programs helped them gain confidence in their personal voice to advocate for themselves and the opportunities they'd like to access in their lives and careers. We hear and observe them growing in collaborative and team working scenarios, confidence in their skills accessing new employment opportunities and meeting new potential employers, and confidence navigating their future, even if it is not clearly defined what their career pathways may bring them. Overall, I think they gain a sense of confidence in themselves as employable and passionate young people eager to try new things. 


Students pose behind Escuela Verde next to a mural painting in a tunnel
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

A few words from teens: 


“TGG changed my life.” -Alex C. 

“I wasn’t expecting to like TGG at first, but it quickly became a lot of fun.” -Payton 

“I really like how we always made sure to create bonds first before jumping into the learning.”  -Chanayah 


A young person smiles, holding a plant and pointing to a TGG branded T shirt
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

What role does creativity play in the work of these teens, across disciplines? 


All of our programs encourage tackling the work we do from a place where each individual can feel personally and creatively inspired. They are given many opportunities throughout their time at TGG to find creative ways to problem solve and carve out space for themselves in the org and in Milwaukee at large, with platforms to ideate entrepreneurial endeavors and ideas for new businesses, creating stories and media to support the work we do, and helping to create programming in our different departments. For instance, all the media you see on our YouTube and Instagram pages are produced, directed, shot, and edited by our Marketing Apprenticeship team (in 2024, 4 Marketing Apprentices ages 17-22, and two former apprentices now on staff as Marketing Associates). 


What exactly goes on within the marketing apprenticeship? Give us a sense of how the program functions, and what a typical day looks like.  

 

The Marketing Apprenticeship I lead (co-lead by Breanna Taylor and Karina Soto, two former interns and apprentices, now on staff as Marketing Associates) is the newest apprenticeship program TGG provides, alongside apprenticeships in Horticulture, Education, and Entrepreneurship. We began this program back in 2021 after graduate Breanna Taylor voiced a desire for teens to contribute more to the storytelling of TGG, through photo, video, and social media. She was our first Marketing Apprentice that year and since, the program has grown to support 4 talented photographer-filmmakers, ages 17-22, and two new staff positions as Marketing Associates.  

 

Breanna and I started by shooting year-round photo and video media to increase the awareness of our org and our programming, and especially highlight the young folks we work with. Our YouTube page has a handful of years worth of short-form documentary spotlighting who we serve and what we do, and since then we have developed a much more robust curriculum. Our 9-month program is split into 3 loose pillars: photography, videography + filmmaking, and social media marketing. Among these pillars we also have created a podcast series called "Behind the Plants" (stay tuned!) and worked with tons of amazing community partners like ArteryInk, Washington Park Wednesdays, MKE OATS, 414loral, and many more, and are kindly hosted by Washington Park Media Center for a site of much of our programming.  

 

A marketing apprentice shows headshot photos to one of the subjects
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

On any given day, we collaborate as a production team to capture and tell the stories of all the programming at TGG, often visiting the other apprenticeship areas and internship programs to feature the work they do. Apprentices are trained in basic DSLR photography, composition, portraiture, and documentary and creative photo taking. They have all started their own Instagram accounts for this work and are compiling a portfolio which will be featured on our site and in gallery form sometime this summer or fall. We are now exploring DSLR filmmaking and editing, using Canon 5D series cameras and a ragtag closet of camera and audio equipment, compiled mostly from donations and use of my old cameras.  

 

How can people support the teens you work with in the marketing area? 

 

We are always looking for more opportunities for the young folks I work with to make connections with people and orgs in the community to support their work and hire them for production work, for example our free headshot "booth" at IMKE's debut of the Milwaukee Day video at Radio Milwaukee gave my team an amazing opportunity to show off their skills and meet many local orgs that have since hired them to help produce their media. My desire in the long run with this program is to encourage young people to explore these skills for all aspects of their lives, as potential artists and media makers in their careers or simply their lives at large. It would be a huge win if they found a new hobby, passion, or tool to propel them toward success in their futures in any medium we explore from photography, to filmmaking, to documentary-journalism, or simply feeling more confident in their artistic and social/community voices. Stay tuned for a ton more stories from this team and please follow us on Instagram and YouTube to stay up to date! 


Young people from TGG pose with Bango, the Bucks mascot, at a Metro Market/Bucks Community event
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

How do you see TGG’s programming growing in the future? 


Our garden center, Webers Greenhouse, has just undergone a redevelopment in this last year, adding two new greenhouses and many tools for that team to be able to grow more and stay open longer during the growing season. Our next phase of development is the addition of an office location for our staff and teens to this same location on Green Bay Ave. This will allow our teens and staff to have a more permanent location to operate out of, as well as plans for a cafe, community meeting place, and more. We also have plans to expand our programming across internships and apprenticeships in the coming years.


Two smiling young people hold plants at the Webers Greenhouse
Photo courtesy of Teens Grow Greens

What inspires you most about your work with TGG? 


Initially, as a contractor working as a content creator with TGG before being on staff, I was inspired to hear from young people in MKE about what they desire for their futures. Their voices have influenced me immensely in my own work as a filmmaker and photographer, and informed me on how to be more open to the younger generation and honor their needs and desires. 


The Marketing Apprentices posing on a couch at Washington Park Media Center.
Photo courtesy Teens Grow Greens

TGG is one of the most inspiring organizations I’ve worked with in my over 18 years in Milwaukee. There is truly a sense of admiration and respect between teens and staff at TGG, and I can’t think of a better foundation for education and introduction into the workforce. I’m honored to have the opportunity to help tell this story with a guiding hand from the teens themselves. - KMA.

 

Follow the TGG in action and engage with their content: 




Follow the Marketing young peoples’ journeys:  







 

And, check out the photo/video work of their fearless leader,  Kelly Michael Anderson.

 

You can support the mission of TGG with sponsorship, donations of financial support or in-kind offerings, or volunteerism. Learn more on their website.



Comments


bottom of page