Smile Farms Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to employing adults with developmental disabilities, opened a new location in Oakdale at Skills Unlimited Inc. on Friday.
Smile Farms now has eight farms spanning across Long Island, Brooklyn and Manhattan. The organization founded in 2015 currently employs nearly 150 individuals with developmental disabilities.
“We provide jobs in agricultural settings for men and women, almost none of whom had worked before,” said Vice President of Smile Farms Jennifer Carpenter Low. “So, for the first time ever, they are able to experience the satisfaction of mastering new skills, the pleasure of contributing to their team and the thrill of taking home a paycheck.”
The organization was started by Jim McCann, the founder and executive chairman of 1-800-FLOWERS.com Inc., with the intention to offer meaningful work to people who didn’t have jobs available to them. Smile Farms, the philanthropic partner of 1-800-FLOWERS, partnered with Skills Unlimited over two years ago and has continued to support their work.
Skills Unlimited, an affiliate of Family Residences and Essential Enterprises, Inc. (FREE), is an agency that provides programs and vocational training to help prepare adults with disabilities for work. Most recently, Smile Farms provided a $31,000 grant to Skills for a new greenhouse within their garden program. Recently, the garden program at Skills has been deemed a certified work training program by the state.
“People who come through get a very intense, robust experience of all different aspects of the garden process, from planting, nurturing and weeding to harvesting,” said Stephanie Lewis, the assistant vice president at FREE.
Skills Unlimited also advocates for adults with disabilities.
“We go to different types of employers in the community and talk to them about the benefits of employing [adults with disabilities],” said Lewis. “We try to support and educate employers about how these people can meet their needs. It just takes a little bit of time.”
Skills Unlimited additionally introduced a mobile market that brings fresh and healthy produce to underserved communities on Long Island. The truck has two nutritionists accessible, both English and Spanish speaking, while also providing recipes to customers.
“We’re trying to promote healthy living to communities that don’t really have access, the understanding or awareness of how they might be able to do so given their circumstances,” said Lewis.
At the Smile Farms, Skills Unlimited campus, they produce crops such as strawberries, zucchini and parsley to be sold at farmers markets, donated to local food banks and used on the mobile market. Recently, the Skills Unlimited campus has received inquiries from local restaurants as well, according to Carpenter Low.
“We want people to see the very real and meaningful contributions that individuals with developmental disabilities make in their workplaces, but also in their communities,” she said.
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