WALL TOWNSHIP — The Allaire Community Farm’s pre-vocational program for people with special needs, Harvesting Occupational and Personal Excellence [HOPE], kicks off this year starting Sept. 12.
Through specific tasks on the farm, adults 21 and over with intellectual and developmental disabilities [I/DD] get access to professional development they can use on their resumes and provide access to social circles they are hard-pressed to find elsewhere.
The tasks on the farm include animal care, gardening, working in the farm market and creating and assembling products for the farm.
With the help of a tailored curriculum developed by special education teachers and a speech-language pathologist, the farm offers a service to community members who don’t have access to advanced education after age 21.
It is goal-based, data-driven and developed with the help of NJ-certified Special Education Teachers who offer individualized teaching plans based on the intern’s goals. Interns review and reflect on their individual goals daily and participate in goal-planning meetings.
“We would like our people that come to our program to be able to pursue employment or have a meaningful life, however that looks to them. We started the framework of this program and then COVID hit. And then as the summer went on when things started reopening, we got so many calls from families that were looking for volunteer opportunities or opportunities for their young adults to get out of the house,” said Janice Palmadesso, speech therapist and director of the HOPE program.
For Dawn Marzarella, a parent of one of the attendees of the Hope program at Allaire Community, the enrichment her son receives on the farm is an “answered prayer.”
“As the parent of a special-needs adult, it just seems the older our children get, there are fewer and fewer quality day programs available for them to participate in. What the farm has created with the HOPE program is nothing short of an answered prayer,” said Ms. Marzarella.
For Ms. Marzarella’s son, Matthew Marzarella, 29, who is a person with autism, the peaceful environment offered on the farm benefits his needs. She also remarked how happy her son is when she picks him up after working hours.
“It addresses his need to find that quiet calm. The physicality of working and walking the farm also addresses my need for him to get exercise. Experiencing a work day that is nearly free from technological temptation offers a welcome alternative to the ‘plugging in’ that my son always seems to default to,” said Ms. Marzarella.
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