Volunteers supported by AHRC Pre-Vocational (Pre-Voc) Services have found a project they love.
It began over the summer when Pre-Voc volunteers got their hands dirty at a local community garden. They practiced skills such as raking, weeding, planting, and tending various crops.
Up to six people supported by Pre-Voc embarked on the volunteering project with The Garden at Temple B’nai Torah (TBT) in Wantagh, making a trip there once a week on Tuesdays from 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Pre-Voc’s regular garden volunteers are James Sardiello, Gerry Accarino, Darin Whitehead, Louis Rosario, Raymie Morgan, and Linda Mays. Since starting, the volunteers have actively worked with a vocational coach showing them the ropes.
“I like mowing the grass and painting the benches,” said Gerry Accarino.
The temple’s gardening initiative began in 2020, when Long Island communities faced pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions bringing to light vast food insecurity issues.
During that time, retired Special Education Teacher turned Garden Manager Rona Kaufman transformed an unused playground on the temple’s property into a lush green space providing fresh crops to the community with the help of congregants and local volunteers.
Carol Meyerson, Employment Training Specialist at AHRC Nassau, has been a member of TBT for years and occasionally discussed the idea of people supported by Pre-Voc volunteering with the garden.
“We were eager to see if we could provide the right kind of experiences for people to meet their Pre-Voc goals and were happy with the opportunity to have more assistance with the garden,” said Koffman.
After striking up conversations with TBT Garden Managers Rona and Bob Kauffman, and Susan Salem, the TBT Garden Assistant Manager—who garnered years of experience training gardening and farming to people of all abilities—the group went over a list of tasks that needed to be completed in the garden and engaged Pre-Voc members to help.
They also discussed the interests of the people in Pre-Voc and different ways to tailor tasks to fit their capabilities.
So far, Pre-Voc volunteers have done everything from gardening to maintenance tasks to contribute to the upkeep and success of the garden.
“Pre-Voc members take great pride in working alongside the garden staff, and the garden volunteers have been such amazing mentors and role models. They have taken our members under their wings, and their guidance has been remarkable,” said Carol.
“The garden volunteers and congregants are thrilled to offer this valuable service,” shared Rona. “The volunteers working directly with AHRC crewmembers, several of whom have extensive experience working with individuals with special needs, love teaching them gardening skills and getting to know them as individuals.”
She also believes that this experience is an opportunity for Pre-Voc volunteers to boost their ability to work independently, while increasing their skills and confidence.
“With the skills the people we support acquire from their time working in the garden, they’ll be prepared for jobs in a nursery or greenhouse,” said Carol.