As the newest member of the Wilmot Gardens team, I feel I’ve found my home. I’ve always felt that nature, particularly water and plants, have a healing power. I’ve witnessed this to be true not only for myself, but especially so as a psychotherapist and life coach for people on the Autism Spectrum. Therefore, finding my way to the Therapeutic Horticulture Program at Wilmot Gardens and becoming the (ASD) Program Coordinator in January 2017 was a natural fit. I feel so at home that I was even wed in the gardens earlier this year.
Let me describe some of the recent accomplishments in the ASD Program. In the spring 2017 semester, after obtaining a grant from the Wal-Mart Foundation that was combined with a gift from Dr. and Mrs. B.J. Wilder, we began a jobs skills training program. Leah Diehl, Director of Therapeutic Horticulture, and I launched the program with ten participants. These individuals were all young adults who identified as being on the Autism Spectrum and were unemployed. Under the guidance of Leah Diehl, we utilized gardening skills as the vehicle for the workplace skills portion of the program. On alternate days, I taught computer-based career search skills, administered vocational aptitude tests, and taught “soft skills’, or the social graces necessary on the job. Towards the end of the semester, we practiced what we learned in mock interviews. Each individual then had the opportunity to complete an electronic resume. Several participants maximized their newly learned skills and landed jobs in our local community! Five of our nine graduates were employed over the summer and as a career coach, I continue to offer life counseling support services to ensure sustained success for our graduates.
In addition, we currently have two of our Spring 2017 participants completing their Florida Nursery Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) training under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Guy, a professor in the Department of Environmental Horticulture and member of the Wilmot Gardens’ steering committee. Dr. Guy feels confident both of our candidates will be successful in becoming FNGLA Certified Horticulture Professionals upon passing their exams next month. These candidates will then be on the path to productive careers within the landscape and nursery industry.
The Fall of 2017 brought an exciting expansion of our programming when we added the Outdoor Gardening On-the-Job Training Class. In addition, we have included persons with other disabilities by adding two participants with Down’s Syndrome. We have eleven individuals in our new program and another seven participants in our Job Skills Training Program. We are fortunate to have Erin Alvarez, a member of the faculty of the agronomy department, teaching the outdoor gardening component of our new program. She has been a wonderful addition to our team and the students love to study under her guidance.
Later this semester we will integrate how to create a healthy lifestyle and model adult daily living skills by preparing healthy foods with the vegetables and herbs we have grown and harvested. We will also learn how to juice our veggies. Overall, we are having a great time and are looking forward to another plant-filled semester of learning and building career and life skills, as well as, new friendships through gardening!
Come see what we are doing with the ASD Job Skills Training Programs at Wilmot Gardens!
Jennifer Weis, Jennifer Weis, M.S, C.P.C., ASD Program Coordinator, Wilmot Gardens