Youth Horticulture Program Grows


10:00 PM PST on Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

A new program that aims to equip young adults with work and life skills is preparing to relocate to A.C. Dysart Park in Banning.

The program, Alliance for Youth Employment Skills, launched in September at Milo P. Johnson Center for Learning, a county schools facility in northeast Banning.

“There’s limited space here,” program coordinator Ben White said.

Students age 18 to 22 with learning disabilities are being taught horticulture.

From a former playground on campus, several students spent time Wednesday mixing perlite into soil. One student then shoveled the soil into plant containers.

On the ground were trays of young plants, including agave, rosemary, bush poppy, coffeeberry and wooly blue curls.

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Paul Alvarez / Special to The Press-Enterprise
Omar Guiterrez, 21, of Banning, works in AYES’s horticulture program that is seeking approval to move to Dysart Park.

The students in this program have potted around two-dozen types of plants. They process and package seeds as well.

On days the weather takes a turn for the worse, the students move indoors to a classroom.

White said the same horticulture program will be taught at Dysart Park but on a larger scale. He said that based on the most recent discussion he had with city officials, his group may have access to 4,000 square feet of the park and a modular building that it would share with others.

The Banning City Council directed staff Jan. 11 to draw up a lease agreement with Alliance for Youth Employment Skills, or AYES. Banning may provide use of the park for $1 a year.

White said he hopes to relocate within the next 30 to 45 days.

At the Jan. 11 council meeting, some members of the volunteer committee that organizes Stagecoach Days, an annual affair at Dysart Park, expressed concerns about AYES’s use of the park.

“We want to make sure we have access,” said committee chairwoman Sue Palmer.

Don Smith, who once served on the City Council, said he was sure the committee’s concerns can be addressed in the lease agreement. Sitting council members voiced support for sharing Dysart Park with AYES.

Mayor Barbara Hanna said the park is empty most of the time.

White said having access to a larger venue will allow AYES to enroll more students, possibly twice as many. Twelve young adults from Banning and Beaumont are currently enrolled and with a homeless advocacy program for veterans providing funding, they are not charged a fee.

White and his four colleagues want to work with a broader spectrum of the community, such as young adults from the mainstream who are having a hard time finding work. White said they would learn skills transferrable to any number of trades. He said participants with and without special needs would learn to work with people who are different from them.

In this horticulture program, students primarily grow plants that are native to California and require less water than other greenery. White wants to use the group’s section of Dysart Park to demonstrate water efficiency.

White said the plants students grow could be used for landscaping in planned residential communities, at public buildings and by developers. He’d like them to do landscaping at Dysart Park.

Reach Erin Waldner at 951-763-3473 or

Alliance for Youth Employment Skills

This nonprofit project equips young adults with work and life skills through a horticulture program in Banning. The group has the following needs:

Freezer for storing seeds.

Small greenhouse.

Shade structure for shading plants.

Irrigation supplies, such as PVC pipes.

Gardening supplies.

Horticulture advisers.

Contact: To make a donation or for more information e-mail Ben White at

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