Wilmot Botanical Gardens (WBG) initiated in 2016 a work and life skills program for young adults on the autism spectrum utilizing plants, gardening and horticultural activities as the training platform. Emphasis was placed on teaching vocational, social and independent living skills using gardening in part as the instructional vehicle in a supportive, active and engaging environment. The project was funded by a small grant provided by the Wal-Mart Foundation’s State Giving Program and with Dr. and Mrs. B. J. Wilder’s generous monetary gift.
The Workplace Skills Training Program at WBG was created with the goal to provide young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) the skills that would help them obtain and sustain employment. The program’s indoor and outdoor gardening activities were planned to mimic a typical employment environment. The sessions sought to promote awareness of how food and ornamental plants are grown in the greenhouse and the garden. Practical garden knowledge, observational skills, decision-making and planning were demonstrated and discussed. The programming also introduced a wide range of plant growth and maintenance concepts and emphasized workplace skills and behaviors.
To augment the prospects of participants securing full-time paid employment, in fall 2017, WBG decided to enhance the work and life skills program by initiating once-weekly tutoring sessions for participants in the program interested in pursuing a professional certification. The Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association (FNGLA) is a member-driven organization representing Florida’s environmental horticulture industry. The association offers professional accreditation opportunities to interested individuals. The FNGLA Certified Horticulture Professional (FCHP) program is the industry standard for appraising horticulture knowledge. The FCHP was created for individuals working in the horticulture industry or interested in entering the field. To qualify for this certification, candidates must pass a comprehensive four-part exam to demonstrate a broad-based knowledge of plants, plant biology, laws and regulations, and safety procedures central to the Florida horticulture industries.
The tutoring program prepared participants for the industry-recognized FCHP examination which, if passed, would position them as competitive applicants for entry-level jobs in the horticulture industry. Tutoring sessions were conducted by Dr. Charles Guy, Professor Emeritus of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry in the Department of Environmental Horticulture. Since its inception, Mrs. Merry Mott, FNGLA Director of Industry Certifications & Career Development, and Mr. Gary Weitermann, FNGLA Certification Manager, provided vital support and encouragement to the tutoring program.
Three participants in the work and life skills program enrolled in the tutoring program in the fall of 2017. One dropped out of the program after missing many tutoring sessions. After attending all 24 tutoring and review sessions and putting in countless hours of study, the two remaining participants passed all four sections of the FCHP examination in the summer of 2018, earning the certification. Both continue to be employed in the horticulture industry. In the fall of 2018, four participants enrolled in the tutoring program, and in the summer of 2019, three participants passed all four sections of the FCHP examination, also earning the certification. One participant is currently employed in the horticulture industry. The fourth participant returned to the tutoring program in the fall of 2019 and passed the FCHP examination in summer 2020. A second participant enrolled in the tutoring program in fall 2019 but dropped out upon the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Out of eight young adults enrolled in the certificate tutoring program, six were able to pass the examination and earn the certification. At least three are employed in the horticulture industry.
The WBG work and life skills program ended in 2018, but the certification tutoring has continued. The tutoring program for special needs young adults preparing for the FCHP examination and professional recognition is presently in recess due to COVID-19. It is expected to resume in the summer or fall of 2021 with a new cohort of participants. Please consult the WBG website about the tutoring program’s return when information becomes available, or feel free to contact Dr. Guy at firstname.lastname@example.org.