ALBANY — Pascale Stain, a junior at Emma Willard School in Troy, knows her fair share about gardening — and giving back.
When the 16-year-old isn’t busy running track, playing violin in the school orchestra, debating in the Model U.N. or hanging out with friends, she spends her time volunteering with Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus at Emmaus United Methodist Church on Morris Street.
The mission of RISSE is to help refugees and recent immigrants build sustainable, independent lives by offering language and literacy instruction, support with life skills and integration into the local community.
Stain, a Girl Scout for nearly 10 years, implemented a comprehensive “Grow, Prepare, Share” gardening and cooking project for 12- and 13-year-old refugee students in the RISSE summer program. It’s part of Stain’s take-action project, a requirement for the Girl Scout Gold Award, the organization’s top honor.
“We just cooked an eggplant dish with tomatoes, yogurt and herbs for Burmese and Afghan families that will feed about 20,” said Stain, as children of all ages played outside the church. “It’s home-food for them, instead of lasagna.”
Stain designed raised garden beds, planted them with RISSE students and is busy harvesting the bounty. She’s spending her summer teaching kids how to cook healthy, nutritious meals with fresh ingredients.
The goal of Stain’s project is to expose children to the principals of healthy cooking; encourage them to eat a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains; practice cooking “math” — measuring, fractions, addition, subtraction and division; and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage through food.
Stain sought donations for the project from friends and neighbors and by organizing a consignment sale. Her classmates from Emma Willard and students from the Albany Academies volunteered at RISSE during the schools’ community service days. About 30 students from Albany Academy for Girls, with the help of the school community and parents, installed a new sandbox at the church this spring.
“This project required a great deal of planning and hard work,” said adviser Sandra Betters Nelson, an English teacher at Albany Academy for Girls. “I’ve know Pascale and her family for years and it’s because of them that I learned about RISSE and got my class involved.”
Throughout the project, which began in June and ends in August, students have prepared recipes that represent their countries of origin — the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Mexico and Eastern Europe — as well as common American foods like pizza. They have participated in a variety of food tastings and toured a local Price Chopper, where they were introduced to the importance of a balanced diet by dietitian Christa Valentine.
Stain worked closely with RISSE education director Rifat Filkins, teacher Elizabeth Rowell and food services director Zaid AlBaker, as well as the RISSE board. She received guidance from Laura Rainbow, Brian Bender of Capital District Community Gardens, Frederick Wellington of Wellington Herbs and Spices in Schoharie, Dr. Muhammad Hena of Albany Medical Center, Jeanine Lindhorst of Cooking Matters, local chef Melissa Schaible, and Dave Dalrymple, who helped build the raised beds.
“I am in awe of how hard the refugees work to transition into their new lives in Albany,” Stain said. “Working with the kids is a lot of fun and makes me thankful for what I have.”
For information about making a donation or volunteering with Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus, call 482-0486, email email@example.com or go to http://risse-albany.webs.com.