Nia Hodge-Grier was formerly in the Employment and Training Services program as a youth. Now she is a local leader, working on the Inside Out Community Garden Project and inspiring others to beautify every aspect of their community.
For Nia, Employment and Training was just the start. As a teen mom looking for work, the program taught her soft skills, like how to build a resume and communication techniques. Program staff were able to assist Nia with the costs of cosmetology school and provide her with the support to pursue a career as a hairdresser.
“Staff were all very supportive,” Hodge-Grier said. “They made sure I stayed on task, had transportation and checked in on me to make sure I was doing well.”
Employment and Training continues to offer help and support for participants interested in technical training. For Nia, the opportunity she got from the program to attend cosmetology school led her to open up her own hair salon.
At her salon, Nia hosted a training academy for hairdressers to get apprenticeship experience. She taught students not just practical skills but emphasized the importance of identity and beauty within oneself.
“I held Makeup 101 courses to teach about makeup and how to apply it but also how women can represent themselves in our community,” Hodge-Grier said. “Aesthetically we want to look a certain way but beauty starts from the inside out. What is on the inside will manifest on the outside, so you have to learn to love you.”
Nia’s experience as a hairdresser and classes taught on inner beauty remain aligned with her passion for healing communities from the inside out. The Inside Out Community Garden is one project out of 24 within the Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program. Projects were approved by the Fresno City Council, with the purpose to invest in local economic and environmental initiatives in Downtown, Chinatown and Southwest Fresno.
Nia authored the concept for the Inside Out Community Garden to engage residents in Southwest Fresno by planting a garden at Sunset Community Center. Fresno EOC is a partner on the project, supporting the initiative to provide residents with a nearby garden to grow healthy and sustainable food.
“We need to get our kids excited about agriculture and science,” Hodge-Grier said. “This is a garden that allows everyone to be a part of a community. It invites elders and children to garden together and bridge the generational gap.”
Growing up in Southwest Fresno Nia saw firsthand the lack of resources and wholesome food readily available for residents. She hopes a garden like the one at Sunset Community Center can provide residents with the means to grow their food and eat produce in season.
“You have to have a connection with the people in the community to affect change,” Hodge-Grier said. “I see Southwest Fresno as a rich community that was forgotten. As a product of that community, I can now heal the community by growing food.”
Before the Inside Out Community Garden Nia was also known for feeding others through her plant-based recipes. She is the author of the cookbook Food for Life: Soul food with a Twist. The cookbook started with family in mind but as interest sparked she published it in hopes to inspire communities of color to eat healthier and adopt a more positive attitude about eating healthier food.
“Healing your body starts with what you put in your stomach.” Hodge-Grier said. “We forget the importance of suitable food and how it can heal us. Food is a universal love language that has the ability to gather everyone to one place.”
Nia also wrote another recipe book, but this one is about healing. After one of her daughters died from an asthma attack she combined 16 years of journals and published the book Beauty from Brokenness: Lessons Learned in the Storm. The book is described as a self-help book for women and offers guidance on how beauty can emerge from the most difficult life experiences.
As a community leader, author, cook, gardener and mentor, Nia is a person who wears many hats. While her beginnings started as a youth in Employment and Training she continues to follow her passions wherever it takes her. Nia’s advice to young people, “stick to what you’re passionate about. If it’s a dream or a vision that you have then it’s your job to move forward with it and make a positive change.”
If you or someone you know is a youth (ages 14-24) interested in pursuing technical education or an internship, call Employment and Training at (559) 263-1100.