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OHIO: Prison Garden Program Founder Gets Scholarship

  • Subject: [cg] OHIO: Prison Garden Program Founder Gets Scholarship
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Tue, 6 Apr 2004 10:05:25 EDT

Canton woman wins $25,000 scholarship

She designed program to help troubled youths

By Katie Byard

Beacon Journal staff writer

CANTON TWP. - It's a good thing Kristen Stryker's big project isn't only about the vegetables.

She's not very fond of them.

The 18-year-old's gardening program -- Help Others to Help Yourself -- is mostly about assisting others.

Her efforts, which have led to community-service gardening programs in 12 youth correctional facilities in Ohio, have won many accolades.

Now they have helped make the Canton South High School senior one of only 10 national recipients of $25,000 in scholarship money through the AXA Achievement Scholarship program.

And later this week, Stryker will learn if she has won a new car every three years in a separate competition, the Volvo For Life Awards.

``I can't believe it,'' she said of the recognition her project has gained. ``There's so many awesome community-service programs out there.''

The $25,000 will go a long way toward paying Stryker's tuition and board at Oklahoma State University, where she plans to study forensic science. Stryker, who will be the first in her family to go to college, acknowledges that the popular television program CSI: Crime Scene Investigation helped to spark her interest in that field.

The AXA award -- actually two scholarships from the charitable arm of the financial services company -- officially was announced Monday, but Stryker and her mother, Patti, got the news earlier this year.

The two weren't all that optimistic about winning. They knew that relatively few were granted and a limited number of applications were accepted.

Patti Stryker recalled handing her daughter an envelope and saying, ``This is probably the `You're a loser' letter.''

When Kristen opened the letter, ``I read it over over so many times... I couldn't believe it!''

Patti Stryker pointed to an inch-thick file of scholarship information. ``I've been very proactive (in targeting scholarship opportunities),'' she said Monday. ``(This) mom doesn't have the money to go for school.''

Patti Stryker is a teacher's aide at Canton South High. Her husband and Kristen's father, David Stryker, is a truck driver.

Kristen Stryker's project grew out of her involvement as a young teen-ager in the Garden Writers Association's Plant a Row for the Hungry program. Surplus produce is donated to local food banks and homeless shelters.

In 2001, she took the idea to the Multi-County Juvenile Attention Center, which serves troubled youth in Stark, Wayne, Columbiana, Tuscarawas, Holmes and Carroll counties. Her inspiration was her half brother Jeremy, who died last year of leukemia at the age of 27 after spending years in and out of jail.

``I was just hoping they (youths in the facility) could get the feeling that comes from helping others the way I did,'' Stryker said. ``And maybe they would not end up in adult prison.''

Participants earn gardening privileges through good behavior and donate the produce they grow to needy people.

``It worked so well at Multi-County, I kind of wanted to help more people,'' Stryker said.

So she wrote to Betty Montgomery, then Ohio's attorney general, urging her to start similar programs across Ohio. Stryker then wrote a how-to book to help inspire the other detention centers.

Stryker, who has a 4.5 GPA, has racked up several awards, including a President's Community Volunteer Award, which she received from President Bush in December 2002.

Earlier this year, she won a $4,000 scholarship from the Coca-Cola Foundation.

In the Volvo awards, Stryker is among three finalists who will receive a $50,000 contribution to the charity of his or her choice. Stryker's will go to the national Garden Writers Association -- for Plant a Row for the Hungry and to help spread her program beyond Ohio.

Volvo will name its grand prize winner Wednesday.

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