Staff Stories: Carolyn Gehrke

My first day working as Growing Hope’s Finance Manager was the first day that staff moved into the house at 922 W Michigan Ave as offices. At that time, before Growing Hope acquired the downtown property, we were pretty packed in, with almost 15 people working upstairs in the three offices.

Over the last 11 years, I have seen Growing Hope grow and change in so many ways. The staff has evolved from over half Americorp Vista volunteers to fully paid staff. The programming has grown from primarily supporting home, school, and community gardens to a full slate of youth programs, gardening workshops, and incubator kitchen rentals. Our market management has ranged from running one market to, during one crazy season, running four, then adding an online version in addition to hosting in-person markets.

From celebrating the 10th birthday in my early days at Growing Hope to now the 20th, I have grown personally and professionally alongside Growing Hope. When I started, my kids were little and loved coming to my work after school and making smoothies on the smoothie bike for snacks or trying other various foods we’d have around to sample. I took them to Growing Hope’s Seed to Plate classes at the library during the summer; they hung out under the trees or helped around the farm sometimes when they didn’t have school and have volunteered at various events over the years. My daughter joined Tour de Fresh (a bicycle tour of area gardens Growing Hope organized), riding behind her dad on a tag-a-long, and participated with Growing Hope in several Ypsilanti parades, riding in the old Truck Farm.

I hadn’t worked in a nonprofit setting before I came to Growing Hope, but now I feel I’ve got a decent handle on it. I’ve learned the ins and outs of grants, audits, budgeting, insurance (especially handling claims after the fire at Growing Hope’s offices in the fall of 2019), and the many required annual filings. I have enjoyed finding and developing systems with the team to keep track of all the many numbers – numbers of hours, numbers of participants, numbers of seedlings, etc., and, of course, numbers of dollars – we need to keep track of. I love getting to be part of an organization and such an amazing group of people committed to moving the community forward in positive ways.