San Francisco

Garden rehabilitation project proves benefits of horticultural therapy for the incarcerated

At the San Quentin State Prison just outside of San Francisco, inmates are working hard at a simple but well-maintained garden; they are digging soil, planting seeds and watering the crops. The plants they harvest are donated to local non-profits.

“Our mission is to rehabilitate people by connecting them back to the earth. By doing the garden we’re building community, and they’re also getting an environmental education as well,” said Beth Waitkus, the founder of Insight Garden Program.

Waitkus started the project after the September 11 attacks with the hope of recovering her faith in humanity. A series of conversations led her to work at San Quentin State Prison under the Insight Prison Project, a rehabilitation project for the incarcerated, and later, taking her love of the natural world, began what is today known as the Insight Garden Program.


Horticultural therapy has long been used at institutions such as hospitals and retirement homes to help with the physical and mental health of residents. The Insight Garden Program, by facilitating “inner gardener classes” on meditation and emotional process work and “outer gardening” in which men are given the responsibility of working in the gardens, gives the incarcerated a renewed purpose in life.

“Coming in this prison every week for the past eleven years, my faith in humanity – I get my faith time and time again because of the transformation I see these men go through,” said Waitkus.

California has the largest number of incarcerated individuals in America, and the rate of re-offence is high. Less than 10% of those who are paroled or finish their time return to jail, showing that the program is successful.  

“When I’m doing it, I’m able to focus on my thoughts,” said one inmate. “On how, you know, we have to give the plants care, and we have to give ourselves care as well.”

Images via Washington Post

Bay Area catering company offers fair employment and entrepreneurial training for low-income youth

Image via FastCoexist


Growing up in a low-income family, Sabrina Mutuskina’s parents worked a dry cleaning business around the clock. Mutuskina spent most weekends there as a child, helping out by scrubbing collars, greeting customers and sending out mail.

Childhood experiences at her parents’ dry cleaners instilled in her a strong work ethic and a love for entrepreneurship. At university, Mutuskina realized that working from a young age had shaped much of her identity and made her passionate about connecting youth from financially needy families with jobs that valued their potential.

And thus, The Town Kitchen, a community-driven food company that employs low-income youth in Oakland, California, was born.

“I created The Town Kitchen to combine all of my passions: youth employment, small business and my love of food,” Mutuskina said.

The Bay Area-based company makes and delivers locally-sourced boxed lunches to consumers. But offering employment at a fair wage isn’t the only way the youth benefit; they’re also given social justice and entrepreneurial training through education partnerships.

Roger Dvalos, who The Town Kitchen named ‘employee of the month’ in October, joined the company in May 2015. Soon, Dvalos will be starting college at San Francisco State University.

“The Town Kitchen is a job where I constantly feel myself learning. I take the work seriously, but it’s more than a job, we all take care of one another inside and outside of the kitchen,” said Dvalos. “I have love for everybody at The Town Kitchen, it’s like a family to me.”

Mutuskina’s passion for inspiring an entrepreneurial spirit in youth stands loud and clear.

“Youth employment is important,” said Mutuskina. “We know that hiring low income, high potential youth means they are less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to graduate from high school.”

“We believe that building youth entrepreneurs means we’ll be bettering our community for years to come.”