“There are two parts of Roots for the Home Team: the program, and the heart."

Zarea came to Roots for the Home Team through a local urban garden, like all youths who participate in the program. Through them she learned how to garden and grow food, before moving into working with us, as a part of our salad stand at Target Field and leadership curriculum.

In her time with our organization, Zarea became a standout leader, and an inspiration for those who worked with her at every level.

Her journey began four years ago when she began working at Urban Roots, a youth program on the East Side of St. Paul.  At that time, she hadn’t really thought much about college, or what her ultimate path would be. “Maybe a veterinarian,” she recalled. But what was definitely not part of her plans: manual labor, or excessive amounts of dirt.

“I did not expect to go to agriculture or food safety work,” she recalled. “I was 14, fresh out of grade school, about to go to high school. I was looking for a job to help pay bills for my family.”

When the urban garden organizers came to Farnsworth, her middle school, the representative looked like a lumberjack. “He looked like he liked hard work.” Quite frankly, that was not the sort of work I could see myself doing.

“I didn’t even think I would make it through that first year. I kept thinking I wouldn’t go back,” but soon she found a passion for learning all about the soil, growing things, and the immense satisfaction of sharing nutritious food with her community. Zarea found the transformative power of soil, sun, water, and food. She found she also craved more beyond the garden.

Roots for the Home Team steps up.

This is where Roots for the Home Team stepped in, as an expanded, unique growth opportunity for youths who have worked with urban gardening programs.

That was when her path crossed with that of Roots for the Home Team’s founder and director, Sue Moores. “Sue asked if I wanted to learn about entrepreneurship and take some classes through Roots for the Home Team. What Zarea expected was a lot of looking up rules and, maybe learning how to fill out paperwork for small loans. Instead, she found employment, passion, and a new perspective toward going to college.

“It was a lot of fun. I didn’t even look at it like a job. I didn’t expect to get paid, but then we did. I learned how to communicate with other people and we got to work on ourselves,” said Zarea. In Roots for the Home Team’s curriculum, she learned to ask herself questions, and push through hardships to growth. “What kind of leader am I? How can I push myself in ways that are fun, new ways?”

A quiet, steadying, and natural leader emerges.

Curriculum leader Ross VeLure Roholt, faculty in youth development at the University of Minnesota, was quickly impressed with Zarea. She wasn’t afraid to make herself vulnerable in class, while encouraging her teammates to do the same. She emerged as a quiet, steadying, natural leader. “Even when an idea was mentioned that she didn’t agree with, she was never negative. Instead, she would say, ‘yes, I see what you’re saying here, what if we did this and…’”

The work at the Roots for the Home Team salad cart at the Target Field, during Twins games, not only provided welcome income, it also pushed Zarea in new directions.

“The hardest part about the salad stand is going out and doing sampling,” said Zarea. “It can be a lot of rejection. I don’t do well with rejection.” But Sue gently nudged her out into that zone of discomfort. “Sue was like, ‘You got this.’ Eventually, you learn. You may get some negative comments, but you can still get out there and thrive. You just keep going.”

Another huge growth moment was learning how to handle money. It was a nerve-wracking part of the job, but she did it. More than the actual handling of the money, was learning to lean into, and feel confident in the trust that was afforded her, and her Roots for the Home Team team members. And those team members, and her mentors naturally gravitated to Zarea’s positivity, and quiet strength.

“It’s so weird to hear other people say I’m such a hard worker,” she said. “They were helping me in ways they didn’t know. Working with them shaped me as a person.

“Growing up for me… I have had difficult times.” Recalling young Zarea, first stepping into the program she said, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” Her path to adulthood wasn’t something she was thinking about on a daily basis.

“I didn’t think I would do it — go to college,” Zarea said, when we spoke with her in between classes at Augsburg. However, once the idea was there, she saw too many roadblocks. How could she ever afford the skyrocketing tuition for a school – let alone a private college?

“Working with Roots shaped me as a person. Their belief in me became my belief in myself.”

“They wouldn’t give up on me and guided me,” she said speaking of Ross and Sue. “Their belief in me became my belief in myself.” She learned to navigate financial aid and pit two universities against one and other to get her a better financial aid offer.

“It took four years of Ross and Sue to even convince me to go to college. They helped me understand that it would be okay. That [these colleges] need me.”

“Roots for the Home Team helps in so many ways. They provided me with opportunities, encouragement, a community of other youth and mentors and so many unique experiences. It was so much more than a job. Sue always encourages me — when she gives me an opportunity I jump at it. I hope that she continues to.”

In thinking of the next generation of Roots for the Home Team youths, Zarea wants to share the benefits of her experiences. “If every youth could take this opportunity, they should. It will change your life. If more people would give youth opportunities the world will be a better place.

“The youth are our future. Support them.”

“The youth are our future. Support them.”