The horticulture training program for developmentally disabled adults at Community Haven for Adults and Children with Disabilities was humming along. The first crop of tomatoes was harvested in 2003, and the nonprofit organization’s consumers (its preferred term over “clients”) were growing enough organic vegetables to feed the on-campus preschool and adult group homes. Ornamental plants were being raised and sold to the public, as they had for many years; and a project to install butterfly gardens around the community was proving prosperous.
Then came the back-to-back-to-back hurricanes of 2004. Fierce storms shredded the greenhouses. Gone with the wind were all the plants, and a successful program that prepared disabled people for the working world was left in tatters.
Community Haven works with hundreds of people every day across the spectrum of disabilities, from Down syndrome to autism, cerebral palsy and brain injury. Between 15 and 20 disabled adults work in the horticulture program, who get paid for their efforts while developing the basic skills that enable them to gain employment in the community—skills working with a supervisor, keeping on task and knowing how to ask for help.
Community Haven reopened its horticulture program last spring with a $40,000 grant from the Selby Foundation, which bought two new greenhouses, state-of-the-art irrigation systems and the infrastructure for a first-ever organic herb garden. On a visit shortly after the greenhouses were installed, consumers were busy moving dirt and propagating seeds with the goal of having enough plants and vegetables for public sale this September.
“We had to back up to go forward,” says Community Haven director Peggy O’Connell, in anticipation of those first ripe tomatoes.