Teen Mindset Magazine had the honor of interviewing Megan Chen, the founder of The Urban Garden Initiative (TUGI). What started as a small dream has grown to be an international nonprofit with over 40 chapters! Read the interview below to learn more about the initiative and her advice for others who are interested in creating a passion project.
What inspired you to start the Urban Garden Initiative?
“I was inspired to start The Urban Garden Initiative because of the major food desert problem within my own city of Wilmington, Delaware. This was an issue that I had learned about in school and after having the opportunity to speak with students, schools, families, that were facing this problem on a daily basis, I truly wanted to do something about a problem that is so pervasive within my own community. Alongside this issue, I have always been very passionate about environmental issues and wanted to teach youth tangible solutions that they could implement in their everyday lives to make a difference on these huge problems that we are facing.”
What is the Urban Garden Initiative? How is this initiative making a difference?
“The Urban Garden Initiative is an international 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to empower and inspire youth to achieve urban sustainability through a gardening based program. With a rapidly growing chapter network of over 40+ chapters currently, we work to teach students and the surrounding community about how to live greener and more sustainable lives via gardening, environmental workshops and programs, and global environmental initiatives with our partner organizations. We are making a difference through the programs, workshops, campaigns, and initiatives that we host as we are teaching youth skills such as sustainable gardening, how to reduce your carbon footprint, and more. We are creating gardens in food desert locations and working with youth that traditionally have not had the opportunity to engage in environmental education and gardening.”
What challenges did you face when creating the Urban Garden Initiative? How did you overcome them?
“I think I have faced a variety of challenges in different areas when creating TUGI. Although I had been involved in the entrepreneurial space prior to starting TUGI and had the experience and opportunity to intern at several nonprofits as well as serve on their board, there were so many new skills learned in terms of actually registering a nonprofit, developing a structure and plan for the long term sustainability of the organization. It was definitely challenging at first to reach out and work with all of the schools that we wanted to but once we began to develop a strong base program we were able to work around this issue and more schools, volunteers, etc. wanted to join in.”
What advice do you have for other teens who want to start a passion project?
“Definitely do your research before getting started. Research to see if there are already similar organizations and initiatives doing the work that you want to do and don’t be afraid to reach out to them and let them know how passionate you are in solving the same issues. Creating change does not always mean starting a new nonprofit or business or just simply getting press/attention for your efforts. If you truly want to make an impact on issues that you care about just do it! Start small and take some steps in your local community and people will want to start joining in your efforts once they see how passionate and dedicated that you are.”
What have you enjoyed most about creating a passion project?
“I have truly enjoyed connecting with incredible youth and community members all around the world that are passionate about the exact same issues that I am deeply passionate about. Also just the process of taking action and seeing results on problems that you want to solve is a super rewarding process and I want to continue to make communities greener and more sustainable.”
What tips do you have for balancing other responsibilities and a passion project?
“It’s ok to say no to things. Ultimately your physical and mental health are most important so if you feel as if you can not balance everything, assess what is most important with you and put the other projects on the side temporarily. Also it is so important to have a strong and passionate team with you no matter what project that you are working on and you do not have to place all of the responsibilities on your own shoulders. Use planners, apps, etc. to help you to best utilize your time and figure out strategies and methods to make your time most productive.”
Thank you Megan! You show how one can not only use a passion project to embrace their passions but also solve a problem in their local community. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of what inspired you to create this wonderful initiative and the challenges you faced along the way. Lastly, thank you for the great advice and for being an inspiration for all youth!