Agriculture program teaches life lessons to teen boys in Kansas City

·2 min read

Kansas City, Missouri — There's more than food growing in a patch of farmland in Kansas City, Missouri, where a crop of boys are becoming men.

Boys Grow, an agriculture-focused, free entrepreneurship class, is a two-year program offering mentoring to 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds, many of whom lack important life skills.

"The soft skills we teach are skills that they're going to be able to continue on," Boys Grow founder John Gordon said.

After working in the juvenile justice system, Gordon was looking for a way to inspire kids.

"He told me to go to college, college is worth it, do everything that I probably wouldn't want to do because next thing you know, I might want to do it," Boys Grow participant Kendrell Kirkwood said.

There's a need in the Kansas City metro area, where data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Kansas City Police Department and the Census Bureau indicate that, so far this year, there have been nearly double the number of youth homicides compared to the national average.

Three days a week each summer, four dozen teens work on the 10-acre farm. They are tasked with everything from planting and harvesting crops, to auto mechanic work and culinary training. All for which they earn a paycheck, and for many, it's their first.

Soe Moe Oo, who was in the 2016 class, is now working as a mechanic.

"Just tenacity, and going for what you want, and the entrepreneurship part of it," he said of what part of the experience has stuck with him.

With marketable skills and the ability to work as part of a team, graduates have gone on to Ivy League colleges and well-paying jobs.

"I see the evolution of these kids every year," Gordon said. "And that's one thing about my job that never gets old."

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