GEAR Gardens designed to cultivate individual skills, employability, crops

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Seeds have been planted in the new Gahanna Employability and Adult Readiness (known as GEAR) gardens in Jefferson Township, in hopes of harvesting independence and employability skills for 18-year-old students with disabilities at 21 years old.

“We’ve planted pumpkins, sunflowers and are starting a pollinator garden,” said Corinne Fields, Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools special education coordinator. “We anticipate that the gardens will be a worksite for our students this coming school year and will be holding a pumpkin and sunflower sale in September.”

She said the main goals of GEAR Gardens are to improve student independence and employability skills while helping students communicate effectively and feel confident in a variety of social settings.

A project manager is being sought to guide the project, preferably someone in the construction industry, perhaps someone retired, said Tricia Twigg, GJ’s community relations and outreach coordinator.

Anyone interested in the position should email Twigg at twiggt@gjps.org or call 614-416-0298.

Ruthie Yoder, GEAR instructor, said 22 rows of pumpkins were initially planted in late June, with more to follow in the garden on the property off Morse Road.

“We are very pleased with the progress that has been made,” she said. “We are still planning to start a Christmas tree farm. It has certainly been an important part of the farm for our students.

She said 11 volunteers from the Gahanna-Jefferson Schools and two volunteers from the Teen Eco Summit with the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium helped plant the garden.

The hope is that the grounds and outdoor spaces will be used for educational programs for K-12 students, according to Fields.

She said the program also has a strong desire to give back to the school district and Jefferson Township by being a resource for families and neighborhoods.

Twigg said the special education department wants to expand the high school’s offsite GEAR program so students can have the opportunity to progress to a work environment that’s more focused on transition skills, independence and employability.

She said Tiffany Hanna, a special education teacher at Lincoln High School, is a board member of the Gahanna-Jefferson Education Foundation.

Gahanna Employability and Adult Readiness (GEARS) student Eric Hayes uses a seeder to plant pumpkin seeds in June.

Hanna, Yoder and Fields worked on a farm program proposal and presented it to the board, according to Twigg.

“The education foundation loved the concept because it’s an innovative learning opportunity, which fits perfectly with GJEF’s mission,” she said.

Although GEAR Gardens has a separate steering committee, Twigg said, the education foundation supports the project by raising funds in several ways.

At the Feb. 26 Gahanna Gala, Mike and Ann Flaherty offered a matching gift of $20,000 to entice guests to donate to GEAR Gardens, she said.

Fund-a-Need’s total donations totaled $41,256, according to Twigg.

“We were also approached by several people that night interested in sponsoring parts of the project,” she said. “At its December 2021 meeting, the GJEF Board of Directors committed $100,000 over the next two years for GEAR Gardens. Additionally, we have a private donor who has allocated over $40,000 to the project. We have also received donations for the project in the form of memorial funds.

Twigg said she is grateful to Jefferson Township for leasing the property, as well as all the donors.

“We have a very generous community, and there has been a lot of interest in supporting this very cool project,” she said.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla

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