The ACCESS® horticulture program is more than just plants. It’s designed to not only build upon school-aged classroom curriculum, but also impart vital social and vocational skills that can help individuals with special needs plan for future employment and exciting new opportunities. Under the guidance of the ACCESS horticulture program, ACCESS Academy students and young adults in the ACCESS Life program grow herbs and micro greens using the organization’s HydroCycle Vertical Aeroponic Systems. They also help to care for a wide variety of plants and flowers that the horticulture program makes available to the community during semi-annual plant sales. ACCESS Horticulture Program Director Scott Simmons notes,
“The ACCESS horticulture program helps to instill social and vocational skills in students that will help them find purpose, success, and independence. And while I am here to help teach them important lessons, I have found that they teach me far more.”
Thanks to the Independence Project, a grant received from the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities (GCDD), the horticulture program has been able to expand its hydroponic and aeroponic growing systems and hire nine paid interns with developmental disabilities—significantly increasing the impact that the ACCESS horticulture program can have not only on the lives of those with special needs, but also on the community as a whole. This expansion is among other initiatives within the Independence Project helping to promote independence among individuals with developmental disabilities.
Another way in which the horticulture program seeks to make valuable community connections is through the H.O.P.E. (Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment) Project, a partnership with Taziki’s Mediterranean Café. This program is designed to teach individuals with special needs all aspects of the horticulture business, including transferable skills that will prepare them for future job opportunities. In turn, the ACCESS horticulture program provides participating local restaurants (including Taziki’s Mediterranean Café’s Little Rock locations (on Cantrell Road and Chenal Parkway), Petit | Keet, Table 28, and more) with fresh herbs, micro greens, and other produce grown in the ACCESS greenhouse and gardens. The relationship shared by the horticulture program and the Central Arkansas community is mutually beneficial, as ACCESS Executive Director Tammy Simmons points out,
“Students and young adults with special needs utilize the ACCESS horticulture program in an expanded capacity. Individuals with special needs have the same desire to find independence and purpose as anyone else. Partnerships with the GCDD and the Hope Project provide vocational training opportunities to prepare them for success in the work force while giving local businesses the chance to invest in their community. It’s a win-win…”
New intern Taylor feels she has found her purpose and loves that she can give back to the community through her work. “I love the plants and taking care of them. And I enjoy helping the customers and seeing how the plants make them happy, how something I worked on makes someone else happy,” she says. And that is at the heart of what the ACCESS horticulture program is all about. It is a labor of love shared by ACCESS staff and the community but ACCESS students and young adults are the individuals that really keep it growing!
To check out the beautiful plants, flowers and herbs grown by the individuals at ACCESS, visit us at the ACCESS Spring/Summer plant Sales every Wednesday – Saturday in May, and every Wednesday – Friday in June and July from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm. Sales are located at the ACCESS Gardens on the ACCESS Academy and Young Adult Campus, 1500 N. Mississippi, Little Rock, AR 72207.
The project described was supported by Grant 18-AGI-001-16-SG, and was made possible through funding provided under Public Law 106-402 as administered by the Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities for the State of Arkansas. This story’s contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the GCDD.