Close your eyes and picture yourself in a peaceful setting surrounded by rolling hills and misty mountains. Listen to the water splashing against the rocks as it simmers down the streams on a hot sunny day. This sounds a lot like a regular day for the residents at Phoenix House Academy San Diego. Phoenix House is fortunate to have a location in lovely Descanso, amd both clients and staff find it rewarding to continue augmenting the beauty of this location. Some of the more unusual additions include an organic garden and a flock of chickens. Phoenix House staff member Antonet O’Toole supervises these projects.
Several years ago, the Academy had a high-energy young client named Ryan who had difficulty focusing until he discovered the art of gardening and building. He found both satisfaction and recognition in these processes. So, with the support of staff members, Ryan made a plan for a garden and approached his family about funding. He designed and built six raised garden beds and his self confidence grew with each step. He started researching plantings that would be best suited for our local environment. He excavated dirt to get the area level, and soon, other clients were offering to help. Many friendships were made and strengthened by this communal effort.
Today, the area is known as Ryan’s Garden. It consists of fruit trees, the original raised beds (where clients grow herbs and vegetables), roses, spring wildflowers, and a birdhouse. There is always one client on hand who is tending the garden. He or she receives basic gardening instructions including composting, watering needs, pest control, fertilizing, and pruning. The facility has a number of staff members who are home gardeners and one who is a former UCSD Master Gardener.
A little-known part of the garden project is the flock of chickens. One of our lead senior counselors is a bird expert, and introduced chickens to the facility many years ago. Most of our clients either have no experience with animals at all or have only experienced taking care of a domestic house pet. The chickens broaden clients’ experiences and help them learn valuable concepts like caretaking and responsibility. The attention that our teens give to these animals helps them gain respect from their peers and allows them to feel a sense of importance.
Not too long ago, a new client was struggling in treatment and felt unconnected to the other girls. She wandered out to the chickens and asked Antonet if she could help. Having previous experience with poultry, she then cleaned, raked, and organized the chicken coop; our chickens were so happy! We now use their fresh eggs to supplement the teens’ meals.
Our clients have been transformed by these experiences. They enjoy seeing and eating the fruits, herbs, and vegetables they have helped grow. There is nothing better than being creative and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor. Ryan and his family may be proud of the lasting impact his project has made on Phoenix House Academy San Diego.
For more information about our substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, or to refer someone in need for admission to our residential or outpatient services for teens with co-occurring disorders at the Phoenix House Academy in San Diego, please contact our Call Center at 1 888 671 9392. We are here to help you find the information and services you need!