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Students with the SkillsUSA program at Columbus High School dug some holes and got their hands dirty Saturday while building a garden for handicapped and disabled individuals.

The Enabling Wellness Garden came out of an idea broached by Columbus Community Hospital’s Rehabilitative Services program, which is based out of the Columbus Wellness Center, near where the garden is located. The hospital worked together with representatives from the Columbus Family YMCA in order to make the garden a reality.

“They wanted (their patients) to do some real skills, real work things as opposed to just sitting and doing some exercises,” said Corey Briggs, CEO of the Columbus Family YMCA. “They want people who had surgery to get back to real life as much as possible.”

The idea was to allow people who had been injured or who were handicapped to be able to plant things like vegetables and herbs as a type of occupational therapy. This kind of outdoor therapy takes a different approach to recovery, unlike most other forms of therapy which take place inside at a closed location.

“If you can get somebody outdoors to do therapy, they’re going to benefit that much more from it,” said Wilma Arp, co-chairwoman of the project. “They’re going to be able to watch this garden grow and that’s really good for mental wellness.”

SkillsUSA was brought in as a way to teach the students in the program how to work together and how to build projects for people with disabilities. Tracy Dodson, the program adviser, said that the skills learned at the project would help benefit not just those working through an injury, but also the City of Columbus as well.

“Right now, we have a skills gap,” Dodson said. “For so long, the kids in these fields have been overlooked. Now, we’re trying to get these kids back into these fields.”

Many of the skills taught in the SkillsUSA program, like carpentry, fit in well with the building of the garden. Of course, people in the program are taught more than just how to saw off a piece of wood. They can learn just about any technical-related skills they want.

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“It’s got over 100 events that these kids can compete at the state and national level,” Dodson said of the SkillsUSA program, which is a partnership of students, teachers and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. “It’s an organization that helps teach these kids some leadership skills and how to use the skills that they learn in the classroom or at work to be competitive in the workforce.”

Caleb Kirkpatrick, a student at CHS, helped with building many of the bays that will be used by the patients for therapy. His expertise is in drone technology, however, he didn’t mind using some of those skills to help build something to assist those with serious injuries.

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“As much as I love flying drones, I love building stuff,” Kirkpatrick said. “I love construction, I want to maybe even go into construction (later). There’s a lot of things where drone applications are being used in construction to either observe or record construction sites. I think it’s pretty cool how technology and working with your hands is being incorporated together.”

Like many of the people coordinating and working on the project, he hopes that the patients who use the garden find a sense of happiness and healing as they work toward regaining the skills that they used to have.

“I think it’s really good that even something as small as this can bring them happiness,” Kirkpatrick said. “They’re able to come out here and do something they’re not able to do, like garden.”

Helping to organize the event has proven to be therapeutic for at least one person in the organizing committee. Arp has had some rough patches in her life recently and she said she hopes that people will use the garden to get through their own hard times in.

“This year, I’ve had a lot of emotional stuff going on,” Arp said. “I’ve spent many hours out here this year and so it’s become my kind of love project. This was a very good mental health rehab for me this summer and it’s just been a wonderful outlet for me.”

Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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Zach Roth is a reporter for The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at zachary.roth@lee.net.

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