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image of Kinley Koontz
Freshman Kinley Koontz founded the Garden Project, a nonprofit that nurtures at-risk schoolchildren through the visual and performing arts.

Four years ago, UT freshman Kinley Koontz founded the Garden Project, a nonprofit that nurtures at-risk schoolchildren through the visual and performing arts.

Now, as an entrepreneurial college student, Koontz is planting her roots at UT with plans to grow the Garden Project while pursuing a degree in engineering.

The Garden Project grew out of work Koontz was doing with her church youth group at Knox Area Rescue Ministries.

image of Kinley Koontz
Kinley Koontz working with elementary school students.

“I saw a need for not only physical necessities like food and shelter and clothing but for more mental needs for self-expression,” she said. “It was incredible to see the transformation of people who had gone through so much trauma when they were able to let go and release all those experiences into something positive for themselves through art.”

The Garden Project works with two Knoxville elementary schools with many students from needy families. It brings high school students into the schools to instruct students from kindergarten through fifth grade in dance, yoga, painting, and other forms of self-expression.

When it came to naming the organization, she wanted it to be symbolic of the work that was being done.

image of Kinley Koontz with students
Kinley Koontz’s Garden Project students make some music.

“In my head I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do? What is my mission for this nonprofit?’ And my heart led me to plant a seed in somebody so they can grow and flourish into their own flower.”

Koontz plans to expand the Garden Project to other areas across the state.

Koontz is part of the Haslam Scholars Program, UT’s premier undergraduate honors program, and she plans to major in biomedical engineering and minor in entrepreneurship.

“As an engineer, I’ll figure out how to solve problems. That’s the same thing you do when you work in a nonprofit,” she said. “I hope to use the problem solving skills I learn in my coursework to make a positive difference in the Knoxville community and beyond.”

CONTACT:

Lindsey Owen (lowen8@vols.utk.edu, 865-974-2225)

Amy Blakely (ablakely@utk.edu, 865-974-5034)