The roots of Kidz1st Pediatrics run deep in Rochester Hills.
And starting this spring, those roots will literally start to spread throughout the city.
Jay Mitchell, Silvia Operti-Considine and the rest of the doctors and staff at Kidz1st, the Rochester area's first pediatrics practice, are hard at work planning a communitywide organic gardening project that will help support their mission: to help the struggling families of the Rochester area.
Called "Raising Rochester," the project will install potentially hundreds of raised bed organic gardens in May at various locations across Rochester and Rochester Hills. The fresh fruit and vegetable bounty from the gardens will help stock food pantries this summer.
"It's grassroots, the whole living-green idea," said Mitchell, whose idea for the garden project was inspired, in part, by a video of a teacher in the Bronx area of New York who launched a similar garden project in his school community.
"When you give people fresh produce, it will help them eat a well-balanced diet. This is all about healthy families, healthy kids."
Kidz1st was formed in 2001 as a continuation of the pediatrics practice that Mitchell's father-in-law, Brad Barnes, first joined in the 1960s. Mitchell and Operti-Considine are co-owners of the practice; Barnes still sees patients there.
In 2011 the doctors formed a nonprofit group to partner with the practice. Called KidzKare, it aims to create and support activities that improve the physical, mental, emotional, social and educational health of children in the greater Rochester area.
Here's just part of what KidzKare does for Rochester-area families:
- Reach Out and Read: Through this unique literacy program, every patient who comes into the office leaves with an age-appropriate book. There's a mini library of sorts inside the office; in December KidzKare donated its 10,000th book.
- Kidz Basics: If patients are in need of clothing, this program will provide them with a gift bag full of three to four days of gently used clothing in the right size. Since last May, they've clothed more than 235 kids. "We don't hesitate, we just give," said Kathy Campbell, a KidzKare coordinator.
- Health education: The pediatricians make themselves available to speak with community groups about everything from ADHD to nutrition to toddlers and tantrums.
- Health screenings: Last year KidzKare assembled a group of 40 area businesses and service organizations for the first-ever Back to School Bonanza, a free health clinic with dental and vision screenings. They saw 397 kids during the daylong event.
And there are more projects on the horizon: doctors have a long-term vision for a free health clinic for kids in Rochester Hills. They're also building a daycare center, complete with a "sick room" as an extension of their pediatrics practice.
Last fall, KidzKare received the Philanthropic Business of the Year award from the Rochester Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In December the organization received a community "thank-you" from the Village of Rochester Hills when they were chosen as a winner of the Village's "holiday giving" program.
The organic garden project was Mitchell's idea. It came to him from the work he did last year in a garden at the First Congregational Church in Rochester. That garden provided fresh produce to the food pantry for the Rochester Area Neighborhood House.
"It was meeting such an important need," Mitchell said. "I thought, 'How can we expand this? How can we get fresh produce to the people in our community who need it most?'"
The gardens that will be installed in the Rochester area will be 4-foot-by-5-foot raised beds, based on the concept behind "The New Square Foot Garden" by Mel Bartholomew. These gardens will be made from non-soil, organic materials that make it easy to grow many plants in a small space, Mitchell said.
Mitchell and KidzKare are searching for sponsors for the gardens; sponsors will pay between $250-$300 to host a garden on their property. Half of the produce will go the food pantry; the rest will be sold at area Farmers' Markets to support the KidzKare programs; a small percentage will be kept by the garden hosts. The gardens will be installed in May.
"Goal No. 1 is to plant these things all over Rochester," Mitchell said.
Then, he plans to take the project into the schools. And eventually, he said Rochester could be turned into a "destination for agritourism."
"Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will overwhelm the food pantry with fresh produce," he said.
How you can help
Give books, clothing: KidzKare collects gently used books and clothing and shoes. Sizes infant through 5T are the most-requested.
Make a donation: Monetary contributions will help the many programs. Send to 2370 Walton Blvd, Suite 3, Rochester Hills, MI 48309
Volunteer: Call 248-651-8197, ext. 171, to see what opportunities are available or to receive information about Raising Rochester sponsorships.