OAKLAND (KPIX 5) She is a Navy veteran who returned home to Oakland, and realized she could really make a difference among at-risk children. What she did next shows why she is this week’s Jefferson Award winner.
Kelly Carlisle looked at high crime and dropout rate, and felt Oakland was still dealing with the same problems it had when she was a kid. So, she had an idea that took root.
“I loved growing things, sometimes not eating them, but certainly growing them,” Carlisle explained.
That’s why she founded and became the Executive Director of Acta Non Verba in East Oakland. It’s a 6-year-old farming project in the city’s Tassafaronga Park. She named the nonprofit Acta Non Verba because it means “deeds, not words” in Latin. Neighborhood kids aged 5 to 12 years old learn to grow their own fruits and vegetables after school.
Eight-year-old Tariyah Smith likes planting.
“I like that I get to eat fresh vegetables from the garden,” Smith said.
And while the children are learning about growing produce, Carlisle is planting seeds she hopes will serve them their whole lives.
“Resiliency, self-sufficiency, respect for themselves and each other,” she listed.
Students sell produce to neighborhood families and restaurants. Carlisle says all the profits go into savings accounts for each child, that pay for after school classes.
During school breaks, Acta Non Verba also takes kids on camping and field trips. Parents pay a fee, based on what they can afford. Farm assistant Gaquayla LaGrone praises Carlisle’s limitless energy.
“She motivates me to keep going, to keep going more, not just for me, but also for these kids,” LaGrone said.
In fact, President Obama honored Carlisle’s work two years ago, saying, “Thanks to Kelly, these boys and girls are not only learning the value of hard work at an early age, they’re changing what they think about themselves.”
“They’re worth the best that this life, this country has to offer,” Carlisle said.
So for planting seeds of change and harvesting hope among East Oakland children, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Kelly Carlisle.