Near downtown Newark, it's a place called the Garden of Hope. Young women performing community service can be seen nurturing plants in a garden.

Near downtown Newark, it's a place called the Garden of Hope. Young women performing community service can be seen nurturing plants in a garden.

It's the nurturing that can't be seen, however, that's the real focus of the garden.

"They build relationships with adults," said David Edelblute, Licking County Juvenile Court administrator for Judge Robert Hoover. "That's one of the benefits. They develop relationships with a positive role model, someone who's outside their family."

Then-Denison University student Shannon Kishel started the Garden of Hope in 2000. The project has continued to receive Denison's support, with funding through the Denison Community Association. Other funding is provided by the juvenile court system, Edelblute said.

Denison students continue to work with the court and take referrals of young women who are in the county's probation or diversion program.

This summer, Denison juniors Kristen Bauman and Rachel Voelkle are in charge of the garden. They took the funds given through Denison and the court and other donations to buy plants and gardening supplies. They then started working in the garden two weeks ago.

The women assigned to them spend three weeks in the garden, working from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. If it rains, Bauman said, they take a trip to the local library.

Voelkle said they hope to teach the women about organic cooking, nutrition and ways to be thrifty shoppers by comparing prices and ingredients.

"We want to try and make it as fun as possible," Voelkle said. "We're trying to facilitate a positive environment so it's not like punishment. We want them to be the owner of something, to grow as a person while they're growing vegetables."

The 80-by-80-foot garden space already has such herbs as spearmint, oregano and cilantro planted in front. Tomatoes, peppers and zucchini will be grown, as well, with a carpet of sunflowers flanking the back of the garden.

Though there is no shade for the gardeners or the plants, Bauman said, they installed sprinklers to help keep the plants nourished. The sprinklers are tapped into the city's water system. A nearby tree provides some comfort to the gardeners when they break for snacks.

There is room at the garden for people interested in being part of a community garden. Bauman said at least five people have asked for plots thus far. Those gardeners share tips with the women in the Garden of Hope and with other Denison students and faculty who also help out this summer.

Bauman and Voelkle said they welcome the help because neither had a background in gardening before accepting the summer internship. They have read a lot about it, though, and are learning along with the young women with whom they're working.

"Neither one of us had much gardening experience," Voelkle said. "But the girls help, and we're all learning from each other."

One of the gardeners, who asked to be unnamed, said the experience has been fun.

"It's fun watching the plants grow and knowing it's going to go to a good place for a good cause," she said.

The produce collected from the garden will be donated to the Old Country Church on Fifth Street, just south of the railroad tracks. Bauman said the church operates a food pantry for needy families.

Both Bauman and Voelkle said they enjoy working with young women, whom they hope to teach over the summer.

"We're trying to get them involved with gardening, teaching them about the environment, diet, nutrition. It's a whole lifestyle, a kind of atmosphere that provides them with a positive role model," Bauman said.

Voelkle agreed.

"We're cultivating produce and working with girls who might need a role model," she said.

Bauman and Voelkle are majoring in sociology and anthropology. Bauman also is in educational studies. For more information on the garden, e-mail Voelkle or Bauman at voelkl_r@denison.edu or bauman_k@denison.edu.