Juvenile Court Services donates $5,000 to HOPE program
Published 4:39 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2016
By EMILY SPARACINO / Staff Writer
COLUMBIANA – A program providing special needs students with life skills and employment opportunities locally received a financial boost from Shelby County Juvenile Court Services this month.
On Feb. 5, Shelby County Schools Jobs Coach Cindy Vinson accepted two checks for $2,500 each for the HOPE (Herbs Offering Personal Enrichment) program at Shelby County High and Vincent Middle/High schools.
The donations will help ensure the program is “productive all year-round,” Vinson said to Shelby County District Court Judge Jim Kramer and outgoing Shelby County Chief Probation Officer John Miller at the check presentation.
“We don’t reap anything from it,” Vinson said of the funds. “It’s for the kids. We expect (the program) to be self-sufficient eventually.”
The program, which sprouted from an idea Vinson and Taziki’s owner Keith Richards formed several years ago, allows special needs students to grow rosemary, basil, parsley, oregano and cilantro for the restaurant to use in its dishes.
Students plant, harvest, package, label and weigh the herbs. Then, they deliver the herbs to Taziki’s, where Richards pays market price for them.
“They give us the exact same thing they give their other vendors,” Vinson said of Taziki’s.
Proceeds from students’ herb sales go directly back to the program.
“A lot of our students don’t get out of their communities,” Vinson said. “The money helps them go places they’ve never gone.”
Funding has also been used to purchase technological devices for students to use at school to keep track of invoices and other information about the herbs they grow.
In addition to growing and selling herbs, some students in the program have been hired to work at Taziki’s and other restaurants in the county.
“I take our special needs students out in the community to get hands-on experience,” Vinson said, adding Richards has hired 11 Shelby County students with special needs. “It teaches all of our kids so many skills … transferrable job skills.”
The HOPE pilot program started at Vincent and expanded to SCHS, but Vinson said she hopes the program will reach other county schools someday.
Also, Vinson said she is working to open up the program to more students – Peer Helpers, agriscience students, marketing students and others – than just those with special needs.
“We want to include other students as well,” she said.
The funds Shelby County Juvenile Court Services donated to HOPE were created by a legislative act strictly for the benefit of children and youth in Shelby County, Miller said.
The funds could help the program complete greenhouses at each school currently involved, Vinson said.
“It’s a wonderful program, and you’re the right person for it,” Miller said to Vinson.
“Anything we can do to help better each student, that’s our goal,” Vinson said. “Everybody benefits.”