Meredith Schoppe originally became interested in volunteering in the Therapeutic Horticulture Program at Wilmot Botanical Gardens during her junior year of studies at the University of Florida. As an undergraduate studying speech therapy, Meredith learned of the program volunteer opportunities from members of her sorority and became particularly intrigued with the program for young adults with autism and related disabilities. In 2017, Meredith contacted the director of the program, Leah Diehl, to become involved and subsequently enrolled in the specialized online training program for volunteers.
Since completing the training Meredith has volunteered in several different programs based on her interest, availability and class schedule. Initially, she volunteered with the autism and related disabilities group which focused on providing participants with an opportunity to learn various social, vocational, and job related skills in a greenhouse and garden setting. “It’s really cool to see how the alternate therapies can be so effective and make such a difference in these people’s lives,” said Meredith of her involvement.
During the spring 2019 semester, Meredith volunteered with the addictions recovery group, which is affiliated with UF Health Florida Recovery Center. Meredith found working with the addictions recovery group to be a very different experience that gave her a better understanding of the widespread effects of addiction in our society, as well as the broad application of therapeutic horticulture for management of mental health. “To me, it has very much normalized what it looks like to have an addiction. You hear about the opioid crisis and if you don’t know anyone in your life then you kind of just assume that it is a certain population, because it does affect certain populations more predominantly, but you also hear that it is everywhere – and it really is everywhere,” said Meredith.
Meredith recently graduated from UF with her undergraduate degree in communications sciences and disorders with a minor in disabilities studies. At present, she is pursuing a master’s degree in speech pathology and shadowing at the UF Health outpatient facility at Magnolia Park in Gainesville, FL. Meredith is still determining her career plans to follow graduation, but is considering the possibility of working in pediatrics.
Currently, Meredith continues to volunteer in the tutoring program for young adults with autism and other special needs preparing for the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) Certified Horticulture Professional (FCHP) program. Participants who pass the industry examination will be poised as competitive applicants for entry-level jobs within the horticulture industry. “I’ve really enjoyed having Meredith work with us over the last few years. Meredith has worked primarily with our ASD participants and serves as a positive role model for them. She does a great job of both listening and relating to the interests of these young adults while also encouraging them to stay on track with their greenhouse and garden work. The participants both respect Meredith and feel respected by her, and that contributes to their success in this program,” said Leah Diehl, director of the therapeutic horticulture.
Bailey A. Hillman
Business Manager, Wilmot Gardens, College of Medicine