Teachers truly don’t receive enough credit. For decades, maybe even centuries, teachers have not only taught young people how to read, write, and multiply, they have also served as community connectors. Over the past 25 years, Youth Farm has seen just how instrumental teachers are in the lives of young people.
When Tyler Berres was in seventh grade at Humboldt Junior High School, he decided to take an elective biology class, at first simply because some of his friends were also taking the class. Eventually, he discovered that his science teacher had teamed up with Youth Farm to create a more hands on student experience. After the school year was over, thanks to the community connections his teacher had made, Tyler stayed involved at Youth Farm for the next 15 years and still keeps in touch with a number of people he met through the program.
“Initially, my friends kept me involved at Youth Farm,” Tyler said. “Eventually though, I realized that the work we were doing was important. As a young person, it is easy to feel tokenized or have adults speak for you, but at Youth Farm I felt empowered to lead.”
Over the years Tyler made his way through Youth Farm’s entire progressive program model and also served as a youth board member, Assistant Program Director, Farm Camp Coordinator, and West Side Program Director.
“Throughout my younger years, Youth Farm was a place I felt safe and supported,” Tyler said. “Gunnar played a huge role as a mentor for me and to this day I really appreciate that. When I didn’t feel comfortable addressing issues with my family or other adults, I turned to the staff at Youth Farm.”
As Tyler matured and took on increasingly challenging roles at Youth Farm, he soon became a mentor to younger youth, much like the mentors he had looked up to while growing up.
“Before I was hired, I saw the West Side Program Director position as a dream job for myself,” Tyler said. “I wanted to continue supporting youth to design Youth Farm’s programming and make it their own.”
When Tyler took on the role as the West Side Program Director he did just that. It was an honor to see him mature from a middle school participant to a full-time program staff member.
“My time as a program director truly impacted my life because I was able to give young people the same opportunities that I had,” Tyler said. “It was so exciting to connect with students in their schools and neighborhoods and introduce them to a program I knew would impact both their lives and the lives of people around them.”
During his four years as the West Side Program Director, Tyler enjoyed working with the members of the West Side community, hosting “Fun Fridays” that included youth-run talent shows, and building unbreakable bonds with young leaders who were following in his footsteps.
“As the West Side Program Director, I had the privilege to work alongside some of the most dedicated people I’ve ever met,” Tyler said. “The staff team we had at Youth Farm truly made our programs happen and were always invested in seeing youth succeed.”
As we all do, Tyler eventually found himself amidst a season of change. After 15 years, it was time for him to say farewell to his time at Youth Farm. However, he has never said goodbye to his Youth Farm family.
“After all my time at Youth Farm, I still wanted to stay in youth work,” Tyler said. “In 2015 I started working as a Program Assistant in Community Education with Saint Paul Public Schools. Just like my time as the West Side Program Director, this position was also extremely youth-focused. My efforts were focused on organizing out-of-school-time programming and being a co-facilitator of the Student Engagement and Advancement Board.”
“Working with students throughout the SPPS district was amazing because I really got to witness the authenticity of their voices and the passion they had for the projects and policies they were proposing. My experience at Youth Farm really helped me launch into this role because I already had experience working with Youth Farm’s Board as both a student and adult. It was also cool to see how Youth Farm was being so highly regarded throughout SPPS.”
After four years with Saint Paul Public Schools, Tyler took on arguably his most challenging role to date – fatherhood.
“In April of 2019 my wife and I welcomed our first child,” Tyler said. “Partway through the summer I decided I wanted to spend more time at home and ended up leaving my role at SPPS. The past few months have really been focused on completing projects around our house and spending as much time with my daughter as I can.”
As Tyler moves into another new chapter of his life, he has taken some time to reflect on everything that’s gotten him here.
“Working at Youth Farm taught me that designing safe, welcoming, and inclusive program spaces set our young people up for success. Youth Farm’s programs have always been gathering spaces where young people from different areas of their neighborhood could connect with each other and contribute to their community. In all of my future endeavors, I hope to continue creating these types of spaces.”
“I also think I became really well prepared for seasons of change like the one I am in now,” Tyler said. “Each year in the garden we poured our heart and soul into growing plants in the summer and then we would have this beautiful harvest in the fall. When gardens started to wither and go dormant for the winter, it was easy to feel a sense of grief. We had worked so long and so hard for something and then it seemed to be gone in the blink of an eye. However, I quickly learned that this season of grief was really one of hope. We put our heads together to figure out where we fell short and how we could improve our efforts next season. Each year only became better and better because we had learned from the previous years. I have carried this lesson with me because life is the same.”
“Seasons of change may seem overwhelming, but ultimately they can lead to some really great things. That lesson has brought me to today, where I find myself in this amazing season of fatherhood. One I have been preparing for all of my life, and one I truly love.”
Even with all of the changes life brings, we are sure of one thing, Tyler has proven to be both a great leader and a great father. We are proud to be part of the story that’s led him here and also remember the teachers, leaders, and youth voices that guided him along the way.
Check out Saint Paul Public Schools Student Engagement and Advisory Board’s website to see how the efforts of youth leaders are being carried on: spps.org/seab.