Mary Leslie Dawson-Ramsey and David Vaughn

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David Vaughn and Mary Leslie Dawson-Ramsey of New Hope Christian Academy

Who we are…

David: My name is David Vaughn and my official title is the Urban Farm Coordinator here at New Hope Christian Academy.

Mrs. Ramsey: And I’m Mary Leslie Dawson-Ramsey. I’m at New Hope Christian Academy. This is my sixteenth year and I primarily teach science.

New Hope Christian Academy is…

Mrs. Ramsey: It’s a college-preparatory school for urban kids. We firmly believe that all children can be good scholars and our hope is to enable a child to reach the potential that God has given them.

We really want to encourage our students to be good stewards of resources of the creation that God has given us and then how that can impact our city.

What led us here…

Mrs. Ramsey: A couple years ago, I read Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. That just brought home again the importance of having children experience nature. We had pretty much gardened out everything around the school and the school also owned the vacant lot on the corner. I’d had my eye on that corner lot for a while, but really couldn’t take it on myself. I knew David was coming home from the Peace Corps and was looking for work, and so it was like, OK, I’ve been waiting and maybe this is the time.

David: There was a specific garden in Senegal when I was in the Peace Corps that kind of inspired it, which was at a psychiatric ward.

How faith plays a role in our work…

David: My dad is a Methodist minister, so I had that background. Had my rebellion phase and I think that gardening was kinda what brought me back in a lot of ways.

It’s like my sanctuary. Very much so.

Mrs. Ramsey: My theology is very creation-centered. And it always has been. In seminary that was pointed out to me very clearly but that’s always where I have encountered the divine, where I have felt God’s presence, where I’ve seen the incredible power and God’s ability.

We define healthcare as…

David: That’s a tough one. When I think of health care, I think of, not only what you generally think of in terms of hospitals…, but also just education playing a huge role in that and developing people who, you know, have healthy souls.

Mrs. Ramsey:  I mean, this is what I do with kids, right? It’s the care of your health. You know what can you do to be healthier and what can you do to take care of yourself. And then when you need other people to help you, then that’s when you head to the hospitals or to your doctor.

How can you structure your day, your life, your week so that you are caring for yourself and you’re realizing that your whole being is a gift from God, so how can you best care for that?

One of Memphis’ greatest healthcare challenges is…

David: Well, I think food access is a huge problem. The reality is that Memphis is a fairly poor city in general and while there are local farms and I would say that the majority of that goes to upper-class families. So I think access to healthy food and access to education like how to best use this food that you might not be used to cooking I think that’s huge ‘cause if you look at Memphis as a whole, we have a lot of obesity.

Mrs. Ramsey: I mean it’s changing patterns, you know.

David: Right.

Mrs. Ramsey: Safety is a concern. Most of our students don’t know how to ride a bike. By the time I was seven, I was out of there, you know? Hair in the breeze. You can’t do that. Not if you live in a neighborhood where it’s not safe. I mean, parents, they care about their kids too much to let ‘em ride up and down the street.

Yes, you gotta get rid of the hot fries, but for kids, I think it’s safety. They just can’t get out and play. It’s not safe to in a lot of their neighborhoods, not in Frayser.

But what Memphis healthcare is doing right is…

David: Well I definitely think there are a number of organizations, like the Church Health Center, like Christ Community Clinic that are really trying to take the more holistic view of health, which I think is amazing.

With enough people and enough support the potential for a larger impact grows and grows.

Mrs. Ramsey: And I have a lot of hope with kids as they experience different opportunities. There are a lot of positive things happening; we just need to get that information out and say it’s free. I mean, some of my students think you have to pay to go to Shelby Farms and it’s just like, no, you don’t.

I think we’re heading in the right direction. I really do.

The biggest challenge in our healthcare work is…

Mrs. Ramsey: To address culture head on. To challenge students to make different choices in eating. To try to expand their horizons and their experience. And so the limitation would be, you know, time and energy, ability to do that.

David: I think from a garden standpoint, one of the big challenges has been and continues to be, like, we’re not going to grow enough food on that lot to provide the cafeteria with enough food every day, even once a week. So the challenge is to try to figure out the balance between how do we get the food that these kids are planting and how do we get it incorporated?

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Isaiah Lewis with his blueberry plant

The greatest reward in our healthcare work is…

David: I will answer this with a story that I’ve told Mrs. Ramsey many times. One of our students, Isaiah. He’s now in fifth grade. It was in garden club the last year and a half, two years. We started a tradition of students finding either a plant or a little area that they like. Isaiah picked a blueberry plant that was the smallest at the time and said, “Mr. Vaughn, I love this blueberry plant,” and I was like, “That’s awesome Isaiah. Every beginning of garden club, you just look at it and take care of it.”

And within a year the blueberry plant took off. I’m telling you, it’s, like, bigger than all the others.

For me, the biggest reward is seeing a student who just is taken by it.

Mrs. Ramsey:  We do a really great job at New Hope, not me personally, other staff, to keep up with those who are at middle school, high school. Three years ago, a young woman wanted to start a community garden in South Memphis. Here was a gardener of eight years ago who was mobilizing the girls at St. Mary’s to go to South Memphis to put in a community garden at a neighborhood center. So it’s seeing that well, maybe some of it stuck, you know? And so that, that would certainly be the gratification.

As well as the small things, like, the joy of earth worms. They just bring so much joy to children! Who would’ve known? I mean, but they do. And so it’s the little things like that.

Learn more about New Hope Christian Academy.

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