(Written by Rachel Manley and Jesenia Legarreta, TigerMountain Foundation)
TigerMountain Foundation (TMF) was developed with the thought that anyone and everyone can move on and achieve their own personal greatness. Darren Chapman, Founder and CEO, is from south-central Los Angeles, moved to South Phoenix as a young kid and currently resides and works in South Phoenix, one of the most economically disadvantaged areas of Arizona.
He admits that as a child, he smoked cigarettes and drank at the age of 7 years old; picked up a gun and tried to do harm to a man at the age of 8 years old; his 3rd grade teacher told the class that the average life expectancy for a Black man from their community was 25 years old. Ultimately, he was arrested and put behind bars 8 times in his life. But, he has been able to chart a different personal and community path. In 2007 he founded TMF and has taken hundreds of participants on a personal voyage that has given them a different perspective on their self-worth and reveals their intrinsic value to the world. Darren sums it up by saying, “What we do is a mosaic of educational/instructional/mentoring continuity and virtuous inclusion and community building.”
TMF's 3 pronged strategy of Workforce/Economic Development, Personal Strategy Road-map and Active Lifestyle/Healthier Living works well with re-entry participants. Almost 50% of our youth participants are referred by probation, parole, schools or organizations that deal with at-risk or troubled youth. Close to 40% of our adults are referred to us through systems that deal with parole, probation or formerly incarcerated. Darren’s unique background enables him to identify with participants of all ages, and through his guidance and that of our 2200 volunteer mentors from all walks of life, participants’ lives are transformed and they are empowered to become productive members of our community
Since 2007, our MISSION has been to empower people by building flourishing community gardens on vacant lots in South Phoenix, plus provide healthy eating and life skills support and workforce development through neighborhood revitalization and beautification. Our VISION is to act as a change agent for healthy living – to build a healthy community where all citizens can reach their maximum potential. The areas of South Phoenix where TMF operates are classified as a food desert (>1 mile from available fresh produce). This has led to food insecurity, poor food choices, and subsequent issues with obesity and diabetes. Local gang prevalence leads to violence, drugs, and unhealthy life choices. This area of Phoenix has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the nation, and many of our participants are referred from the justice system. Our youth interns urgently need job and life skills to combat these forces and lead community members out of cycles of economic decay.
Many come to our program without strong parental guidance at home. These youth and young adults participate in our Garden Initiative and our Agri-Landscaping Initiative, where participants are mentored one-on-one through experiential learning in the gardens and educated on living an active and healthy lifestyle, meanwhile completing their own Personal Strategy Roadmap. Participants build tangible, marketable workforce skills as preparation towards earning a living wage as successful adults. We use ABCD -- Asset Based Community Development to give the community a hand up, not a hand out.
We chose Job Readiness as our focus, but we include Arts and Culture at each bi-weekly experiential learning session. Education is key to workforce development, gardens alleviate heat island effect to restore the environment, and food grown provides sustainability and alleviates food scarcity. Plus, eating chemical free, healthy food provides participants a way to avoid the prevalence of poor health choices illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease so we meet many more of our objectives!!
Positive Success Story:
Jesenia L. brings her 4 youth to TMF to work in the community and learn about a better lifestyle around gardening. Jesenia recently stepped out of homelessness and began working with TigerMountain Foundation workforce development. Two of her youth (13 years) and (15 years) receive workforce incentives for their work in the gardens as well. Jesenia also uses her gift of spoken word poetry to share positive messages of hope and unity at TMF events such as Juneteenth and The Audubon Gathering. Her poetry helps to highlight the opportunities TMF offers for artistic creative expression.