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updated: 2/4/2013 9:02 AM

We Grow Dreams helps people with disabilities develop job skills

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  • Joyce Browne of Naperville says her daughter, Jessica, has learned much through the job skills programs offered at We Grow Dreams. "She has learned to offset the challenge of work with the reward of a paycheck. She has gained maturity and self-esteem."

      Joyce Browne of Naperville says her daughter, Jessica, has learned much through the job skills programs offered at We Grow Dreams. "She has learned to offset the challenge of work with the reward of a paycheck. She has gained maturity and self-esteem."
    Courtesy of We Grow Dreams

  • We Grow Dreams Greenhouse and Garden Center in West Chicago creates opportunities for Eddie Pinc and others with disabilities to develop skills that will serve them in the workforce.

      We Grow Dreams Greenhouse and Garden Center in West Chicago creates opportunities for Eddie Pinc and others with disabilities to develop skills that will serve them in the workforce.
    Courtesy of We Grow Dreams

  • The greenhouse and craft programs offer We Grow Dreams participants like Billy Yoakam of Naperville a wide range of work experiences.

      The greenhouse and craft programs offer We Grow Dreams participants like Billy Yoakam of Naperville a wide range of work experiences.
    Courtesy of We Grow Dreams

 
 

In classrooms all over DuPage County and beyond, teachers group students with classmates for discussions, assignments and projects.

The goal, of course, is to help the children learn to collaborate -- to share ideas, to work with others, to be flexible, to give and take -- knowing such skills will be invaluable in adulthood and the workforce.

For some students with special needs, the very nature of their disabilities makes it extremely challenging for them to develop and use collaborative skills.

We Grow Dreams aims to make it possible -- enjoyable, even -- for older students and young adults to hone their abilities and build traits prized by employers.

Through its We Grow Dreams Greenhouse and Garden Center in West Chicago, people with disabilities have the opportunity to work in a supportive environment under the guidance of job coaches, employees and volunteers. They take on the responsibilities that go with growing plants and preparing them for sale, and they make garden-themed crafts to sell as well.

At the We Grow Dreams Garden Market in Freedom Commons in Naperville, participants work with customers to sell plants and crafts, developing another set of vocational skills.

Joyce Browne of Naperville has seen firsthand what participating in We Grow Dreams programs can do. Her daughter, Jessica, has autism and takes part in We Grow Dreams to ease her transition into adulthood. Today, Browne tells us why the experience has made a difference for both Jessica and her family.

Joyce Browne

We Grow Dreams is a nonprofit greenhouse located in West Chicago that provides an opportunity for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to learn job skills in a safe and supportive environment. My daughter, Jessica, is one such individual.

Diagnosed at 3 years old with autism, her story is one of amazing gifts and overwhelming challenges. Due to the nature of her disability she relates to the world differently, has difficulty processing information, poor social skills and finds most environments overstimulating.

This makes the transition to adulthood a daunting task. We Grow Dreams has given her an opportunity to develop her social skills, persistence and her ability to stay on task.

In any other setting her resistance to non-preferred activities would be an instant exit. At the greenhouse, her triumphs are celebrated and her struggles are supported. There are not many places like We Grow Dreams.

For myself, I've found tremendous compassion, moral support and humor. I've made many new friends there and have a new community.

The office staff is really amazing. They don't judge or criticize and they always have my back.

Being a parent of someone with special needs can be isolating. Many typical activities are just not a good fit for Jessica. At the greenhouse you meet families who can relate and some pretty amazing volunteers as well.

Everyone deserves the right to a meaningful and productive life. Very few places have created an opportunity for people with special needs to develop the skills they need to be successful. Like everyone, they need to practice so they can learn. Being able to stay on task and get along with others are essential skills.

Jessica has learned so much by having to do things that she does not want to do. She has learned to offset the challenge of work with the reward of a paycheck. She has gained maturity and self-esteem.

For myself, I've learned more than I have space to list here. I've learned to be incredibly flexible, patient and relentlessly positive. I believe no one is insignificant and everyone has abilities.

I would like to extend the opportunity for all to support our mission by donating to We Grow Dreams. Our annual Bowlathon is Sunday, Feb. 10. Each person who bowls donates $100 to participate.

We also are looking for items for our silent auction and raffle. This is our major annual fundraiser and we depend on it to keep the doors open during the lean winter months at the greenhouse.

Last year we participated as a new family member of the greenhouse. It was a lot of fun and a great opportunity to support our community. Details can be found online at www.wegrowdreams.org.

Another awesome way to support the greenhouse is to shop there. The plants are beautiful. Our team members produce houseplants, herbs and vegetables. I love the Fall Fest with all the mums and pumpkins. We just finished selling poinsettias and topiary reindeer for Christmas.

I hope all who read this will support this fine group. It's not just about my daughter or autism, it's about all of us. Being a person with a disability is a minority anyone can join at any time. Providing job skills is a hand up. We invite you to join our mission.

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