GREENSBORO, N.C. — When Martin and Lou Green asked him what he wanted after graduating from Ragsdale High School in Jamestown in 2001, their son Dustin said he would like an old Jeep he could tinker with all summer before enrolling that fall at N.C. State University.
Instead, his parents treated him to a three-week backpacking trip in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, an experience that changed his outlook on life.
But his life was cut short: The following spring, riding in the passenger seat of a Jeep whose driver ran a red light on campus and was broadsided by another car, Dustin was thrown from the vehicle. He died a few hours later.
To keep Dustin’s dreams alive — he loved working with children and had seen first-hand the value of learning about other cultures – his parents and sisters Ashlie and
Mallory created Dustin’s GreenHouse, a nonprofit that works to cultivate opportunities for underserved and under-recognized high school students in Guilford County.
With his parents and sisters serving on the board, Dustin’s GreenHouse works with kids the way a “gardener might plant seeds and nurture them,” says Ashlie Bucy, the
nonprofit’s volunteer executive director and Dustin’s oldest sister.
While travel abroad is the heart of the program, its larger purpose is to provide ongoing support for kids who have few resources, not only preparing them to visit another
culture but also equipping them to graduate from high school and succeed in college, work and life.
Operating with an annual budget of $85,000, the group in its first few years provided four local students with scholarships to N.C. State University, and also sent a student to Ecuador for three weeks.
It also created two computer labs for students and their families in low-income neighborhoods in Greensboro and High Point that now operate independently.
In recent years, Dustin’s GreenHouse has focused on its “Globetrotter” program that has taken a total of 77 kids on trips abroad that typically last two weeks.
Students can apply through the Guilford County Schools, and those who are selected receive eight months of training that includes leadership development, self-esteem-building and job-networking, as well as an introduction to the culture of the country they will be visiting.
So far, teams of roughly 12 students each have visited Guatemala; Uganda; Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands; Peru; and Romania and Hungary.
A big focus of the visits is giving back, with students immersing themselves in the local communities and getting involved in hands-on service projects.
“We want them to realize they have tremendous opportunity here in the United States, and the best way to do that is to have them experience another culture first-hand and the challenges people face abroad in developing countries,” says Bucy, who is director of business communications at TCDI, a Greensboro firm that develops software that companies use to manage data they may need for litigation, and formerly was assistant to George Stephanopoulos of ABC News and to Bill Bradley, the former Democratic presidential hopeful.
Dustin’s GreenHouse also keeps a blog the students can use to make journal entries during their trips, and pushes them to develop their strength and endurance by hiking
volcanoes, for example, or whitewater rafting.
Now, to develop an ongoing relationship with participants, the organization is adding a program, known as “The Village,” that will provide support for participants in the areas of academics, work and daily life.
Building on the idea that “it takes a village to raise a child,” the new program will connect students with tutors and help them apply for college, scholarships and
It also will help them develop leadership skills and learn to write resumes, and find internships and part-time jobs.
And it will help them navigate daily life by sharing resources and information about how to get access to food, shelter, transportation and communication.
To design and develop that expanded program, Dustin’s GreenHouse has hired as its director of program development Ashley Staton, a past president of the Junior League of Greensboro, where she met Bucy.
Staton also will be developing partnerships with corporate sponsors and matching their employees with kids participating in Dustin’s GreenHouse.
The goal of the new village program is to provide ongoing support for students after their trip abroad, including helping them complete high school and college or community college, and get jobs, Staton says.
The idea, she says, is to “enable the student to grow and thrive.”