EmpowORR Garden Grows Opportunity, Experience

Beneath the nutrient-rich soil that lies within the carefully crafted raised garden beds of donated wood grows a network of community service now deeply rooted and firmly planted behind the Old Rochester Regional Junior High School.

Deemed the “EmpowORR” Community Garden, on Saturday, May 21, the vision came to fruition beneath a sunny sky and in the hands of a group of people who donated their time – as well as their energy, dedication, and gardening expertise – to a project that will serve both student needs and community needs as the growing season progresses.

Becky Okolita, teacher of the Old Rochester Regional Transition Program for special education students age 18 to 22, envisioned a community garden where her students could benefit from the experience of growing produce from seed, while gaining real work experience selling the fruits of their labors at local farmers’ markets and also donating some of the harvest to local families in need.

“As the garden continues to expand and grow,” says Okolita, “another goal would be to reduce waste in our schools by providing a composting system.”

Okolita is still hoping to garner donations to erect a greenhouse to further expand the garden, which has started off with tomatoes, strawberries, herbs, salad greens, kale, peppers, and flowers.

“We just hope things will grow!” said Okolita, getting her hands dirty as she planted baby tomato plants.

The Transition Program was established this school year to provide vocational, social, and educational opportunities for students aged 18 to 22 with moderate to severe disabilities. The mission of the program is to provide experiences that “will lead to successful and meaningful life paths tailored to each student’s unique gifts and abilities.”

To make a donation to the garden, please contact Becky Okolita at rebeccaokolita@oldrochester.org, 508-758-1345 ext. 2520, or visit the garden’s Go Fund Me page at www.gofundme.com/orrhsgardenandgreenhouse.

By Jean Perry

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