By Gregory Miller
President/CEO Penn-Mar Human Services
If you’re a gardener like me, you’ve been waiting all winter to get outside in the warm spring weather to start making the magic happen. I love watching the once dormant bushes sprout new green leaves and buds, and finding plant shoots popping through the heavy soil. After all these years, I continue to be amazed when I see flowers blooming and vegetables growing, each in their own time, creating an ever-changing tapestry that slowly and beautifully transforms the landscape.
We have a lot of experience at Penn-Mar Human Services with the transformation process, continually transforming life into living for the individuals with disabilities we serve.
A perfect example of that commitment is the new Community Living Services (CLS) Garden Project we recently initiated at Whispering Rise Farm & Animal Sanctuary in Freeland, MD. Called “Seeding Transformation,” the program is designed to deliver everything that title implies.
There are limitless analogies you can draw from this process of growth and transformation, at once simplistic and profound. And 14 of our individuals, led by Community Learning Instructor Rosanna DiSebastiano, will benefit from this gardening experience — from planting to harvesting — picking up skills and life lessons along the way that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
As our folks prepare the soil and plant their seeds, they are acquiring skills that may lead to a career in gardening. We call it the “discovery process” at Penn-Mar, where we expose our folks to different job opportunities, hoping to inspire and train them in a new skill or enhance the interests and capabilities they may already have.
The beauty of this programs is that it will also be “seeding inclusion,” where our individuals will be able to interact in the community through the Garden Project and our partnership with the TALMAR Horticultural Therapy Program.
We’ll be “seeding employment” as the discovery process may uncover a passion, interest and talent for gardening that could lead to paid career opportunities.
And because adults with disabilities are four times more likely to report their health to be “fair” or “poor” than people with no disabilities (40.3% vs 9.9%), the Garden Project will be “seeding health and wellness” as the participants spend their days actively gardening in the fresh air and learning about the nutritional value of every vegetable they plant and harvest.
Most importantly, from May to September, our individuals will be “seeding relationships,” working side-by-side with their peers and instructors, sharing their experiences with their families and Dedicated Support Professionals (DSPs), and learning a valuable skill that we can market to local businesses as part of our customized employment initiative that promotes the advantages of hiring skilled, eager-to-work individuals with disabilities.
The Garden Program is also a wonderful example of how Penn-Mar leverages the strengths of our own DSP staff without the need to outsource, finding out what they are passionate about and then using their considerable skills, talents and knowledge to support and energize programs like this.
As a fellow gardener, I know our participants will be discovering that while every effort may not yield fruit, it will always have a lesson to share and knowledge to impart that will make the bountiful harvest in September – and for years to come — that much more exciting and gratifying.