Program empowers kids with disabilities

Published 2:04 pm Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Plant Project co-founder Lisa George speaks to the Alabaster-Pelham Rotary Club during a Jan. 3 meeting. (Reporter Photo/Neal Wagner)

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

A nonprofit group has been working for the past few years to help students facing disabilities at local schools to thrive and develop real-world job and social skills.

The Birmingham-based Plant Project Horticulture Program has been working with students at Thompson High School, Thompson Middle School and Columbiana Middle School over the past few years to help them develop skills for life after high school, project co-founder Lisa George told the Alabaster-Pelham Rotary Club during a Jan. 3 lunch.

During the lunch, George said many of the project’s local participants have gone on to hold jobs after completing the program.

“We don’t look at their disabilities, we aren’t trying to cure them,” George said. “Our goal is to teach them to empower themselves.”

The program, which is the only one of its kind in the country, utilizes horticultural therapy and pairs the kids one-on-one with adults older than 65. George said the adult acts as a role model to the kids, and helps them to develop academic, social, vocational and life skills necessary for life after high school.

The Plant Project purchases and installs equipment necessary for schools to implement the program, which allows the participating students to work with their role models to plant and maintain a successful garden.

“By having that adult role model, it tells the kids ‘It’s OK for me to be who I am because that adult cares about me,” George said.

Because many children with disabilities are associative learners, gardening helps them develop everything from math and science to social studies and history skills, George said.

“They are our living legacy,” George said. “We need them in the community giving back to us, and us giving back to them.”