Our Purpose and Vision
The statistics regarding children with developmental and cognitive challenges are rising drastically. Although awareness of this increase has grown significantly, few people consider that these children quickly become adolescents and then adults. Developmentally delayed children, adolescents and young adults face the daunting challenge of preparing for a meaningful, productive adulthood with neurological systems that present unique obstacles.
Unfortunately, our community is ill prepared to provide support and meaningful work and leisure activities for the growing number of aging teens and young adults coping with developmental or cognitive challenges. Although day programs, group homes and supported employment programs (such as sheltered workshops) do exist in Michigan, the options are limited (and often indadequate) and the waiting lists extensive.
If we were to reflect upon what it is that gives our lives meaning, it is likely that most of us would agree that the work we do, our accomplishments, our contribution to society, our relationships and the ways in which we spend the majority of our time are significant contributing factors. When individuals coping with special needs are left with few options, they are often forced to accept less than satisfactory working and living conditions. These options rarely involve adequate physical activity, social interaction, creativity, cognitive/mental exercise and overall purpose and meaning.
This challenge is not insurmountable, however. This is where Growing Roots enters the picture. Growing Roots utilizes the motivating impetus of nature as the locus of solutions to this pressing issue. At Growing Roots, we believe that all individuals deserve the opportunity to live a satisfying, fulfilling life and that in the appropriate environment, with the appropriate support, all individuals are capable of making a meaningful contribution to their community.
Growing Roots sees all members, regardless of developmental delay or other cognitive challenges, equipped and empowered to lead meaningful and satisfying lives.
This vision will be accomplished by the creation of nature-based programming, employment and housing that will become an integral part of the community and nurture each individual’s self esteem and need for purpose in life. At Growing Roots we envision a family-like atmosphere in which every participant can take pride in the vital role that they play.
Growing Roots is committed to the assertion that all individuals have the right to the opportunity to make a difference in their world. While many adults with developmental delay or mental illness may be able to seek employment in sheltered workshops, such as factories, Growing Roots provides the opportunity for individuals to gain skills and perform jobs in which they can directly see the results of their work and fully realize the social responsibility of being a small part of a larger whole.
Why Utilize an Agricultural Setting?
Some employment opportunities for individuals with developmental delay run the risk of predetermining an individual’s capabilities and placing a ceiling on their opportunity for growth. In contrast, at Growing Roots, the responsibility of caring for living beings that fully depend upon the participant opens up endless possibilities for the participant and allows for immense physical, neurological, psychological and spiritual growth.
An agricultural model allows those for whom competitive employment is not an option, the opportunity to participate in meaningful work and recreation. The farm setting is ideal for many individuals with developmental and cognitive challenges because it provides a calm and innately therapeutic environment in which to gain insights and skills so often not available in the stress and demands of an ever-changing, hectic and overwhelming world. The world of nature, and specifically a farm setting, is incredibly sensory rich. It offers endless opportunities for sensory and motor experience in a safe, non-overwhelming environment. This offers welcome relief from the bombardment of aversive sensory input experienced in too many other real world settings.
In contrast to most sheltered workshop alternatives, work in a natural setting, such as a farm, is so incredibly varied and growth oriented that programs are easily individualized to match the interests and abilities of each participant. Opportunities for cognitive development are ubiquitous due to the wide range of jobs to be done in an agricultural setting. The progressive results of participant’s work are readily evident, enhancing their sense of accomplishment and fostering the confidence needed to take on other tasks, facilitating constant growth. For example, a participant may be in charge of a crop planted as a seedling. As he nurtures the plant, watches it grow and eventually harvests it for sale or for eating, he knows that he is responsible for that outcome. He is proud of his work and excited to take on jobs that require higher level skills such as helping to run the farmstand from which he can sell the produce that he grew. On the farm, there are endless opportunities for members to be “challenged by choice”, meaning that they are the ones ultimately determining what they want to work on, to what capacity and at what pace. Emphasis is on growth, skill acquisition and self-satisfaction, not production rate.
In contradiction to most current employment options for those with developmental and cognitive challenges, those working in a farm setting are constantly active, both physically and mentally. This aspect is critically important. It facilitates overall health, growth and wellness. The agricultural setting offers a holistic lifestyle.
At Growing Roots, members are not simply learning to farm. Rather, they are using nature and farm work as a medium for therapeutic change and growth. They are learning a wide variety of skills that extend far beyond the farm setting. They are interacting with others, gaining social skills, and forming relationships while being involved in meaningful activities about which they care and in which they are invested. They are learning about themselves and about what it is that gives their lives meaning and fulfillment. Also important because of its therapeutic impact, they are having fun!