Garden Forever
Hands in the Garden Project

Since 1983 Etobicoke's REACH for the Rainbow project has provided integrated recreational opportunities to children and adolescents with developmental delays and physical disabilities. The program operates summer camps, after-school programs and employment training opportunities for young adults.

In 1997 REACH added the HANDS in the Garden program designed to work with young people in creating, tending and harvesting vegetable and flower garden plots at camp.

"'I loved the garden," says 17-year-old Alexandria Vince, a veteran REACH camper. 'I really did. I loved using the hose to water the plants and flowers .... next year, I want to plant vegetables.' And, the experience has also allowed Alex to imagine the day when she'll be working in a kitchen or helping children out as part of a career. Indeed, her counsellor at Huron Church Camp has recommended that she have a month long work placement."

"And for mom, Linda and dad, David, it has been an ideal opportunity for Alex to develop her self confidence and her conversational skills."

"'Alex has always wanted to be like her big sister, Joelene, and this work placement allowed Alex to have the thrill of a summer job just like her sister."

HANDS, stands for Helping Adults Nurture and Develop Skills. The gardening aspect began when various camps in Ontario were approached to design programs that incorporated working in garden plots as part of the permanent camp structure. Three camps decided to take part.

" 'Each camp planted their own choice of greenery in the raised beds custom built for wheelchair access,'" says Rachel Aalbers, a Project Rainbow camp coordinator. 'Everything from lettuce and radishes to herbs and marigolds was planted.' "

"REACH supplies an allowance to purchase equipment -- rich soil, plants, hoses, shovels and a variety of other things - and supplied the most important thing there is about a garden - 20 eager gardeners!"

" 'REACH had found a way to give something to the camps that would in turn benefit both our campers and young adults and something that would be there for a long time to come, ' Aalbers says. "

"While taking part in other facets of life as a camp employee, HANDS allowed these young adults to develop the types of additional skills and responsibilities one can only gather through gardening."

"When Leslie Forstner returned after her two week placement at Camp Ganadaoweh, near Cambridge, she sat down at her home computer. A few minutes later, she had come up with a list of more than 30 possible jobs she could now apply for as regular employment."

"...a few weeks later upon her return when she regaled her parents with stories of how she wore a whistle while supervising the little kids in the pool and what hard work it was having to peel all the carrots and potatoes."

"For parent Katie Posluns, knowing that an agency like REACH for the Rainbow can set up and monitor a work program for her 19 year old son, who has a developmental disability, was very important."

"This summer was the second summer Aaron participated in a work role. Being a veteran, it was expected he'd be able to contribute even more as a staff member. "It is uncertain what the future will bring. Maybe an internship program, maybe an apprenticeship. Aaron has been given the chance to show he can develop skills, it just takes him a bit longer and he needs a little more guidance and attention than most. It has been wonderful for us as parents to come to rely on REACH for the Rainbow and to know it is there."

Chris Rowchffe, also 17, is another participant whose HANDS experience has touched him greatly. His camp counsellor, Todd Eby of Huron Church Camp, wrote to Project Rainbow after the season, raving about the work Chris did.

"'Chris loved being a member of the camp maintenance team and had great success at mowing and weed whacking, garbage collecting and site clean up,' Eby wrote."

"Going into it, Chris knew both the camp and his mom, Bonnie, had high expectations. So, he worked hard impressing them both."

" 'I had to hoe the garden, put seeds in the ground for flowers and other jobs,' he says."

"He now knows he's qualified should a neighbour ever want to hire him to do odd jobs around their home. Like Leslie, Chris is looking to the future."

"As a result of this camp experience, Bonnie says she is now looking to find weekend programs during the coming year where Chris can further develop his skills, communication and his sense of independence."

Over the last two years REACH has expanded its HANDS in the Garden project. The results have been excellent. Young adults are learning new, valuable skills that will serve them well in the future, both in the workforce and in their daily lives.

Popular Gardening Pages


REACH for the Rainbow has kindly allowed us to reprint part of the original article appearing in their Project Rainbow Scrapbook, Fall 1997.

All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system, without the prior written consent of REACH for the Rainbow is strictly forbidden.