Matt McGraw

The Interim Program Director of the Boys & Girls Club of Moncton — regardless of how many kids there are on any given day, Matt always has time to listen to a child’s concerns.

matt at his desk

Matt McGraw’s office, today, is jam packed with guitars, two pianos and floppy, old, worn baseball bases.  The whiteboard behind his desk is covered with drawings done in erasable orange marker by his partner Hilary Cantin.  Everything here is in progress, in a free-flowing kind of way and everything could look different tomorrow.

Matt talking to Elaine
When I brought the idea of an Intergenerational garden to Matt at the Boys and Girls Club of Moncton, he jumped at it and has been an incredible supporter the whole time.

Matt is Interim Program Director at The Boys and Girls Club of Moncton and at 25 he has put in seven years at the club, starting as a monitor. He has a lot of interests but lately he has added learning more about gardening, wild edibles, and about plants in general, so it’s perfect that we’re working together on the Inter-Generational Gardening Project funded, in part, by a Food Action Grant from the New Brunswick Department of Social Development — joining seniors and kids to grow a garden, cook, preserve and share food and to learn.

A favourite with the kids

Matt leading children to the garden
Since the club is a drop in centre, when there is an activity on offer, one of the staff will “go round up kids who want to garden” and we go ahead to wait for them. Here is Matt leading a group eager to work.

The kids love Matt.  They peer into his office door to see what he’s up to and are always eager to follow him when he has something to show them, like how to plant basil.

His bright blue eyes get brighter when he talks about projects he has overseen, like the small garden he started last year with the help from RBC. “We just planted,” he says. “We weren’t overly vigilant about it but things grew.” So when I approached him with the idea to add five new beds this year, create a kid-illustrated handbook, and involve seniors he jumped at the chance.

Matt talking to girl
Matt always has time to listen to the children’s concerns and take them seriously, even if all they want is to go have a drink of water.

Gardening has skipped a generation

For Matt gardening know-how has somehow skipped a generation — his. “(That) knowledge has been disconnected from our generation,” he says.  “It’s important to make that connection point so that it can trickle down to the youth, too, especially as it’s becoming a feasible way to feed yourself.”

Since the club is a big drop-in centre, the process for involving kids is a staff member will be selected to “go round up some kids who want to garden” and off they go and off I go with my volunteers down to the garden to wait for them. Soon, like a scene from the Music Man, a staff will come around the corner at the far end of the building leading a group sometimes as small as three or four kids or sometimes as large as nine or ten. And we garden or draw. Or eat.

matt finds a bug in the garden
For the last couple of years Matt has been increasing his gardening skills and believes it’s valuable to pass those skills on to the next generation. Here he found a bug in one of the boxes and wanted to know if it was friend or foe.

Mostly, the younger kids are involved. “They’re bright-eyed and bushy-tailed,” Matt explains. “We let them do as much work as they can weeding, and teach them proper watering techniques and how to plant different seeds.

“There’s an eagerness to learn among all of the youth that participate in the gardening program. Some of these youth are invested just to get their hands dirty and try something new, while others come with home-grown gardening experience of their own. Either way, our youth are ecstatic to garden, and ask everyday “how are the vegetables?””

Harvesting is the reward

Elaine with three boys eating beans from the garden
The best part of gardening is, of course, eating. Here we’re snacking on beans. Children from the top: Mohammad, Zackaryia and Youssef.

Matt remembers the fun of harvest time from the previous year. “The most excited I’ve seen the kids was lifting up the cucumber leaves and seeing these big field cucumbers, just monsters,” he says. They pickled their yield last year but this year he hopes the harvest might supplement, in a small way, the food they provide for the kids at the club and even become the basis for teaching healthy cooking. “We want healthy body, healthy mind, essentially passing on knowledge of how to prepare a meal.”

Possible model for the community

Matt sees this gardening initiative spreading to the greater community as children influence their parents. “I would like to see just about any piece of lawn being used for something rather than just green carpet.”

For Matt, the results are beautiful and rewarding. “I love getting to the end of your season and seeing food growing and really, really enjoying it.”

matt at his desk with his partner Hilary in the background
For fun, I gave Matt some Sea Rocket, an edible beach plant, and challenged him to grow it in his garden.  That’s it on his desk. He took it into his care with the same enthusiasm that he gives to all the kids at the club. That’s his partner Hilary Cantin behind him doodling on his white board. She’s an artist who also works with us on the Inter-Generational Gardening Project.

Random stuff in his office

garden claw on art
Garden claw resting on artwork — Looking around the Interim Director’s office at a Boys and Girls Club, you’re liable to see anything anywhere.
cutout of heart on window sill
A heart on the sill — Delightful debris left behind by creative children.
Banjo by the window
Banjo by the window — And yet more random interesting stuff that flows in and out of Matt’s office.

Editor’s note

With this post we begin our Youth Worker Beat, what better segue than a story that fits into both the Food Security Beat and Youth Work.