Santa Rosa youth grow career and life skills in neglected garden

Good News Notes:

When Curtis Short and his wife Patricia Seddon first saw the space where they were asked to help young adults with special needs and disabilities create a garden, they were dismayed. The small fenced area was a tangle of weeds, with only a rose bush and several small fruit trees — plum, apricot and pomegranate — pushing through the thick Bermuda grass.

Surrounding it were parking lots, cracked and weedy asphalt and maintenance and office buildings for the Santa Rosa City Schools. The students, part of a multiyear program teaching independent living and vocational skills, had their classes in old, weathered portable classrooms. The 10 students in teacher Melanie Charter’s class often ate lunch in the “garden,” taking turns sitting at the single picnic table.

Short and Seddon couldn’t do anything about the ambiance. But they figured they could help the students create an oasis amid the functional but forlorn space at the end of Ridgway Avenue.

“Our youngest child moved away to college Sept. 9, 2021,” Short said. “As empty nesters in need of a new purpose in life, Pat and I were immediately struck by the sad look of the existing garden and surroundings there, and we became almost instantly committed to building a wonderful new garden,” he said.

Short, a certified arborist and landscape contractor, connected with Charter through a mutual friend who had asked if he could help the teacher create a gardening program for her students.

The 18- to 22-year-olds, who attended schools throughout the Santa Rosa district, are engaged in a variety of volunteer and apprentice jobs through the Community Transitions program, doing everything from food service at Sonoma State University to helping out at a school childcare program and volunteering at the Humane Society.

“With support from any of three classroom staff, students participate in paid and volunteer work experiences,” Charter said. Alongside that, they learn independent living skills like meal preparation, budgeting, home maintenance and how to get around to shop or socialize.

“The goal is for students to exit the program with as much independence as possible and with resources and connections in the community to support them,” she said.

A garden program could build additional skills, like teamwork and basic garden maintenance, Charter said. There are currently 30 students spread among three classes who need additional support as a bridge between school and living and working in the community. While much of their work is out in the community, they do have classroom time on their makeshift campus within view of Santa Rosa High….”

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