Robert Kenny carefully pulled an armful of carrots from the ground outside the Elaine Dobbin Centre for Autism on Monday afternoon.
Kenny is a person with autism who avails of the centre’s gardening program as a seasonal grounds assistant.
He proudly said that he helped to grow the very same carrots he just harvested.
“The slogan for the harvest is ‘Come Grow With Us’, and the individuals who are working in this program are growing as well, so they can see — from seed planting to harvesting — what their work is producing,” said Tess Hemeon, manager of advocacy and communications with the Autism Society of Newfoundland and Labrador (ASNL).
“It’s something tangible at the end — you can hold a turnip and see that you did it.
“They’re gaining skills, they’re gaining confidence, and they’re learning how to work together.”
Some of the produce grown in the garden’s 37 market beds will be served at the Harvest of Hope this Saturday.
It’s a major fundraiser for the society.
The co-ordinator of fundraising and events said last year — the inaugural year for the event — it brought in about $100,000.
Jennifer Brown said those funds support the wide range of programs, advocacy, and outreach work the society is known for, and the goal is to raise the same amount this weekend.
It’s a huge help, supporting the more than 250 people registered for programs this year, as well as the society’s province-wide outreach initiatives which reach tens of thousands of people —more than 17,000 people last year alone.
“Everything that we do is about helping to make the community more inclusive and accepting of persons with autism,” said Brown.
At the Harvest of Hope on Saturday, guests will be entertained by musical guests The Once, enjoy the local fresh food — much of it grown right at the centre — as well as dance and participate in live and silent auctions.
Complimentary champagne, wine, and beer are provided by Charton-Hobbs and Quidi Vidi Brewery, and dessert will be provided by the Newfoundland Chocolate Company.
Tickets can be purchased until Saturday afternoon by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 722-2803.
People who can’t make it to the event but would like to support the society can also sponsor a market bed with a $500 donation.
“It’s sometimes tricky to explain to people the amazing impact that a lot of our services have, so to kind of look and say, ‘OK, I can see that I did that and that people were involved in it’ — it gives them a bit of a visual,” said Hemeon of the specific gardening programs.
“For people with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) generally, using all their senses to be outside — the tactile feeling that you’re going to get from gardening, you’re going to be smelling what you’re harvesting — it’s a really cool way to learn about your feelings and your emotions and that sort of thing.
“It’s the therapeutic aspects of being outside and being a part of nature that’s really appealing to us.”
That positive impact was made clear as Kenny pulled the first few carrots out of the ground and smiled.