LAVALETTE, WV, August 30, 2021 – Stepping Stones, Inc., the revolutionary foster care facility in the heart of Appalachia, reached a major milestone in its Youth Transition Project (YTP) when it officially opened its first tiny home and welcomed its first resident on Friday. Longtime supporter and urban farmer Stephen Ritz, a life-long educator, author of “The Power of a Plant” and founder of New York-based Green Bronx Machine, was on hand to celebrate and cut the ribbon on this first of eight tiny homes that are fully funded and under construction.
YTP is a public-private partnership focused on youth ages 16-23 transitioning from foster care or experiencing homelessness. The project’s centerpiece is a tiny-home village, offering comprehensive life skills, employment training, education and well-being supports provided by the broader community. Its goal is to support disconnected West Virginia youth as they transition into adulthood so they may reach their full potential and become productive, contributing citizens.
According to Corey, the first resident, “I have never been gifted with such a thing. And it truly honors me to be the first in the tiny home program in Stepping Stones. I look forward to a new challenge.”
Corey’s new home — and those soon to come — are the result of a large, caring community of supporters, funders and volunteers, including Cabell Huntington Hospital, Toyota Motor Manufacturing WV, Wayne High School CTE Engineering Class, Tolsia High School CTE Class, Truist Bank, Bernard McDonough Foundation, Braskem America Neal Plant and interior designers Pam and Tammy Watts, among others.
“This is an exciting day for all of us at Stepping Stones. Our heartfelt thanks go out to our many partners for getting us here. Their generosity of funds, time and expertise enables us to serve West Virginia’s most vulnerable young people and provide them with the tools and skills they need as they begin their life’s journey, empowering them on that journey,” said Susan Fry, executive director, Stepping Stones. “A very special thank you to Green Bronx Machine and its founder Stephen Ritz for helping us early on to get our commercial greenhouse, the lynchpin of our village, up and running.”
Ritz and Green Bronx Machine have been working with Stepping Stones since 2018 on its Growing Hope initiative – a commercial greenhouse with 20 aeroponic Tower Gardens on property. Using GBM’s propriety curriculum, Stepping Stones youth are trained to manage the greenhouse, growing their own food and donating excess to local communities in need.
“This farm is the first commercial greenhouse in America run by foster care youth. It represents a highly replicable model and is an exemplar in horticultural therapy and whole child engagement as well as poly-technical training,” said Ritz. “I always say my favorite crops are people. I am thrilled to see Stepping Stones’ incredible young people continue to thrive and grow.”
About Stepping Stones, Inc.
Established in 1975, Stepping Stones, Inc. is a fully-licensed child welfare and behavioral health provider with over 46 years’ experience working with West Virginia’s troubled and troubling youth and their families. The therapeutic milieu is family-centered and youth-focused and provides youth with an opportunity to enhance cognitive competence, internalize coping skills and develop an “I Can” attitude. Through restructuring, reeducation and reintegration, Stepping Stones seeks to strengthen the youth’s relationship with family and community. The Program firmly believes that discovering and uncovering the connectedness of the youth and his family with the community is paramount in treatment delivery. For more information, visit https://steppingstonesinc.org.
About Green Bronx Machine
Founded in 2011, Green Bronx Machine (GBM) is an impact-driven, for-purpose organization with 501(c)(3) status. GBM builds healthy, equitable and resilient communities through inspired education, local food systems, and 21st Century workforce development. Dedicated to cultivating minds and harvesting hope, its school-based model and propriety curriculum uses urban agriculture aligned to key school performance indicators, to grow healthy students and healthy schools. Simultaneously, GBM also transforms once fragmented and marginalized communities into neighborhoods that are inclusive and thriving. For more information, visit www.greenbronxmachine.org.