Horticulture program teaches job skills to detention home residents

By Kelly Robinson

Residents at the W.W. Moore Jr. Juvenile Detention Home in Danville, Va., are learning skills they’ll be able to use the rest of their lives, thanks to the Green Thumb Nursery horticulture program.

Students in the program learn basic horticulture skills, including plant care and landscape design. However, Jane Clardy, a teacher at the detention center, thinks students in the program are actually learning something beyond horticulture — they’re learning to care about their future.

In 2001, Virginia Cooperative Extension got involved with the program after Clardy invited Stuart Sutphin, a horticulture Extension agent in Danville, to start a horticulture jobs program.

“The Danville Cooperative Extension office has given constant support to our program,” said Clardy. “We would never have developed it to the stage it is now without the help of these individuals.”

Before he began working as an Extension agent, Sutphin was the grounds maintenance superintendent for the Danville Public Works Department, a job that made him acutely aware of the need for entry-level horticulture workers. Sutphin and Clardy set out to create a program that helped students learn valuable horticulture skills that could help them land a job later in life.

Over the 10-week course offered in the fall and spring, Sutphin teaches everything from plant botany to pest control. Those who pass the final exam receive a horticulture job skills certificate.

According to Sutphin, when three students were told they were about to be released from W.W. Moore, they asked the judge to let them stay until they finished the program.

“They’re learning how to run a business, how to market the trees, and how they’re supposed to look when they’re going out,” Clardy said. “People don’t like to think about detention homes, and people don’t realize there are real kids here with potential. The more we can get our kids out where they are meeting the public, even if the kids don’t go into horticulture, it gives them self-esteem.”