Sowing Seeds that Last a Lifetime – Hand In Hand’s Outdoor Classroom & Garden

Thanks to generous donations in memory of longtime volunteer Elizabeth Saia, Hand In Hand, our state-of-the-art Early Learning Program serving children with and without disabilities, is home to a gorgeous outdoor amphitheater-style classroom and a garden complete with 6 raised beds. This barrier-free, fully accessible garden was designed to encourage curiosity and imagination while inspiring creativity for children in the Hand In Hand Early Learning Program.

“We believe in providing an outdoor environment that is a positive, healthy setting, where children can learn, play and grow,” states Dr. Gary Edwards, United Ability CEO. “Our outdoor healing and learning center is fully accessible to all children including those with walkers, wheelchairs, and special needs.”

The garden is seamlessly integrated with Hand In Hand’s existing nature trail. Inside the garden, the raised planting beds allow children – including those in wheelchairs – their own space to plant vegetables, plants, and flowers.

The idea of a garden began with a strong desire to give students an opportunity to learn hands-on about nature, science and the environment while providing opportunities for physical and social development. A garden is a springboard for skills like counting, reading and writing, social studies skills like learning foods from other cultures, and art skills like identifying colors and patterns, creating drawings, and painting. Other benefits of gardening include improvement of fine motor skills, improved cooperative and social skills, enhanced self-esteem, sensory perception, and creativity.

“We’ve experienced many social and health benefits centered around caring for a garden and the exposure to nature including education, better health, appreciation of life, sensory experiences and community awareness and involvement,” offers Kim Braasch, Hand In Hand Early Learning Program Director. “The garden is designed for all children to be able to reach in, work in the soil, and get their hands dirty while taking ownership of their own plants, vegetables, and flowers. A true sense of pride is evident as the children plant seeds, watch their them grow, harvest and EAT their vegetables.”

A great deal of thought and research went into the garden’s overall design including varying wall widths allowing for wheelchair and walker access. Separate planting beds were built for each class and each planter is subdivided for individual children to tend. Since constructed, this garden has been not just a resource for students at Hand In Hand, but serves as a nationwide example of how the outdoor environment can provide an opportunity for therapeutic, educational, and rehabilitative therapies for children with special needs.

The care and maintenance of this important and unique piece of our campus would not be possible without dedicated board members, volunteers and groups like the BB&T Lighthouse Project. Thank you for helping us sow seeds that will last a lifetime!

Want to help us grow or take a tour of our garden, Please contact David Barry at 205-944-3916.

Special thank you to the following donors for bringing our unique outdoor learning center to life!

Joe, Caroline and Joe Saia – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Vincent and Mary Saia – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Jennifer Saia Dawsey – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Vince and Angie Saia – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Joe and Frances Naro – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Phillip and Tricia Naro – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Diane and Philip Zicarelli – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Joe and Cindy Naro – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Lynne and Mark Cohen and Family – In Memory of Elizabeth Naro Saia
Bee and Ed Robinson – In Honor of Sara Robinson
Van and Carolyn Horne – In Honor of Alicia Grace Owens
Jan and Maury Shevin
Nicole and Bram Odrezin
The McGlynn Family

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