In 2012, our team at the Wilmot Gardens initiated a patient care program, therapeutic horticulture. Since that time, the program under the direction of Ms. Elizabeth (Leah) Diehl ably assisted by a host of volunteers has served a diverse group of individuals with various physical and often times mental challenges. In the fall of 2016, the team accepted the opportunity to work with a small group of young adults with autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Indoor gardening was employed as the vehicle to enhance the well-being and quality of life of the participants. Subsequently, a small grant obtained from the Wal-Mart Foundation as part of their State Giving Program combined with a gift from Dr. and Mrs. B.J. Wilder made it possible to greatly expand this initiative. Ms. Jennifer Weis, an experienced life and career counselor joined our team in January 2017 to co-direct the program with Ms. Diehl. In this expanded program participants receive intensive training in both basic workplace skills using gardening as the training vehicle and specific job skills along with job placement support. Also, we have established a small computer laboratory in which trainees are taught to create an electronic resume to be used to apply for employment opportunities online. The primary goal for these participants is to acquire meaningful, paid employment and ultimately the opportunity for transition to independent living.
Our first class of 10 adults, 9 males and 1 female, completed their initial 16 weeks of twice-weekly sessions in mid-May of this year. All finished the workplace skills segment of the program with the exception of one participant who left the program for personal reasons. Thus far, five individuals have obtained full time, paid employment in local businesses. Three additional individuals who are enrolled in the job skills component of the training program are working toward certification by the Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Guy, a faculty member in the Department of Environmental Horticulture at UF. Upon completing the coursework and successfully passing a final examination, each participant will be recognized as a Certified Horticulture Professional by the FNGLA. Successful candidates will be well-positioned to obtain employment in the nursery and landscape industry as well as in closely allied professions.
This fall we will begin working with a second group of young adults with autism or ASD. Plans call for an expansion of the class to 20 participants. Also, we will continue to offer job placement, mentoring and life counseling support to all of our trainees under the direction of Ms. Weis.
Inquiries regarding this program should be directed to Ms. Jennifer Weis, ASD Program Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 294-8710.
C. Craig Tisher, M.D., Director, Wilmot Gardens