CCAC and Achieva continue to cultivate mutually beneficial partnership with community garden
PITTSBURGH—A partnership between the Community College of Allegheny County and Achieva, a nonprofit organization supporting and empowering individuals with disabilities and their families, promises to yield another bountiful harvest from the CCAC South Campus community garden this summer. More importantly, the partnership continues to provide a rewarding, community-based experience for the people Achieva supports, as well as fresh produce for students and families in need of food assistance.
CCAC’s Community Training and Development Department has worked with Achieva for more than 30 years to help people with disabilities reach their full potential. Expanding the relationship to include the South Campus community garden has proven to be a great opportunity for all.
“This partnership embodies the spirit of CCAC South Campus by providing work skills development and education from our academic community for Achieva clients,” said Charlene Newkirk, president, CCAC South Campus. “It also enables us to offer our students access to healthy fruits, vegetables and herbs through our South Campus Cupboard Food Pantry and to provide service learning opportunities for our students. In addition, the corn circle in the front of our campus is a way station for monarch butterflies. The garden is a sustainable way to use the land on campus for the benefit of many people and for the environment. From a few seeds grown in our greenhouse, we are able to provide so much goodness to the community.”
For the third year in a row, Achieva-supported participants are helping to maintain the South Campus gardens and greenhouse by weeding, watering and eventually harvesting a variety of organic vegetables and herbs. A total of about 16 adults with intellectual or physical disabilities volunteer for the weekly activity—about eight each on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Much of the produce will go to the South Campus Food Pantry where, on average, more than 30 students and their families receive food assistance each month during the school year. There is such an abundance of produce at harvest time that some of it is also distributed to students and staff in the cafeteria.
The people Achieva supports, who work closely with CCAC staff members, share in the harvest of the community garden. They also cultivate a garden of their own and get to take home everything they grow. In addition to the benefits of having homegrown produce—such as beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, basil, parsley, cucumbers and zucchini—the volunteers learn valuable skills and enjoy the activity.
“Over the past three years, they’ve seen the benefit of planting and harvesting and sharing with the food pantry, and that makes them feel good,” said Alisha Vereen, Achieva Employment Supports program specialist. “They look for the same acceptance that we all look for, and they need to know they made a difference.”
The program has been successful largely due to the efforts of Dennis D’Amico, CCAC South Campus groundskeeper. He guides the volunteers through tasks in the garden or the greenhouse, showing them how to care for the vegetables, herbs and flowers.
D’Amico enjoys working with the volunteers and knows all of their names, and he interacts with them one-on-one when an individual requires more attention. Outside of the growing season, the volunteers may help him with other tasks, such as painting benches or bundling corn stalks.
In the colder months, the clients spend their visits to CCAC South Campus in the classroom, learning math or other subjects. The skills acquired in the garden and the classroom may eventually help some of the clients to become employed, Vereen said.
For more information about CCAC’s Community Training and Development program, call 412.237.2723. For more information about Achieva, call 412.995.5000.
Photo #1: An Achieva client helps to collect greens while other volunteers look on.
Photo #2: Groundskeeper Dennis D’Amico points out some new growth to Achieva clients and staff members.
Photo #3: An Achieva client waters the plants in the South Campus greenhouse.