CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — There are some in our local homeless population who feel hopelessness and spend their days hesitant to pursue a career. However, there’s a program that allows them to put their time and hands to good use. It’s called C-U at Work, a partnership with C-U at Home and the City of Champaign Township.

The program, which was formed in 2018, started as a trash abatement and neighborhood beautification project. But over time, the need to feed our communities also sprouted. That’s why today, it serves as a farm-to-table opportunity. Workers in the program cultivate the same produce that goes to mobile and farmers markets. In 2021, nine of them produced over 10,000 pounds of fresh, organic produce for the community.

“It’s a blessing for the city because a lot of our food is grown in our community, these guys grow it. Then it goes to our farmer’s market where our community’s eating the food. They have a hand in all that the guys that are growing it. I think it’s a huge blessing for them and for the community,” says Steven Harper, the Housing and Outreach Coordinator at C-U at Home.

Due to the success of the program, C-U at Work expanded to a second location this year. With 40 additional raised beds, the outreach to the homeless and the hungry will be fulfilled. That second “farm” is located on North Street in the Beardsley Park Neighborhood. The first site is located on 1st Street with 30 raised beds.

The workers in the program are not only learning urban farming, but they’re earning a minimum wage and putting their skills on display. It could come in handy for future careers. Something the nine month program hopes to see come into fruition by the end. Participants must show they’re working towards housing as well.

“A lot of it is just being idle around town. You’re out of the shelter for some part of the day and so a lot of that is wandering the streets. It’s wonderful that with this program we’ve been able to develop something that gives people a great purpose. At the same time, it also gives individuals the ability to use their skills,” says Nicole Musumeci with the City of Champaign Township and Coordinator for the Prosperity Gardens.

The Prosperity Gardens are what the urban farming sites are actually coined as. But the purpose behind them is all the same, to improve the lives of the workers in the program as they try to do the same for the city. As a member of that program, Eric Habing agrees that this benefits all who are involved in such positive ways.

Normally, the workers in the program are involved with C-U at Home’s Phoenix Day Center and Men’s Shelter. After being in the program only a year, Habing says that was plenty of time to see the impact.

“The beds sat empty here for a couple years and it beautifies the neighborhood. The guys get to work individually towards something positive and they get to earn a little money. I think as they’re kind of getting some of them back on their feet, it puts them in a positive frame of mind. So I think it’s a win for everybody.”

To learn more about the C-U at Work program, click here.

You can learn more about and support C-U at Home by clicking here.