By Liz Collin

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — WCCO is partnering with Xcel Energy for the company’s Day of Service this week. We’ll introduce you to local nonprofits that could use your help. That includes one in St. Paul, where they are growing produce and responsible students in the process. Urban Roots is pulling lifelong lessons from city gardens.

With the skyline as her backdrop, another hot morning starts on Ravoli Bluff for Adora Thao, giving the St. Paul garden bed a close look. The Harding High School student is one of 75 youth who may experience barriers to more typical employment working a paid internship this summer at Urban Roots, where marketing, conservation and cooking skills are honed and shared.

“Every summer I want to do something. I don’t want to stay home. I want to feel like I accomplished something,” Thao said.

Executive director Hayley Ball says the lessons go beyond the hard work of restoring old parks and harvesting. They also focus on resume writing and financial literacy to prepare kids for life’s next steps.

“Our mission is to increase access to nature and healthy food in our community,” Ball said. “One of our goals here at Urban Roots is to grow culturally relevant produce, because 97% of our youth are from BIPOC communities. So we work with our youth every year — what are you going to grow and eat in your households and what’s relevant to you and your culture?”

Gustavo Ivarra has worked all six sites this summer.

“Here at the Urban Roots program, I want to promote biodiversity in the area, so that’s removing invasive plants so native plants can thrive,” he said. “I like the hands-on, I like the outside, I like working with other people.”

They’re accessing nature in a way that they never thought possible before.

Urban Roots has an event this weekend, as well as its annual fund-raiser later this month. You can sign up to help this weekend, learn about other organizations, and take Xcel’s “Good Energy” pledge to volunteer, by going to

Liz Collin