By Audrey Carter, Phase II Fellow
Last week I had the pleasure of attending the 3rd annual Inclusion Day Fair in Waynesboro, Virginia. This fair is designed to gather community members and organizations to connect local resources for students with disabilities and celebrate inclusion. We began the evening with a guest speaker who spoke about advocating for her daughter's needs in a world not built for her success. This was followed by an opportunity for families and community members to connect with local organizations, visiting booths and collecting resources. After a free meal provided to any and everyone, we all gathered to witness two local high schools competing in a game of unified basketball.
I attended the fair as a representative of my Phase II placement organization, Project GROWS. A great deal of Project GROWS programming is based in outdoor education, hosting on-farm field trips, camps, etc. Like any organization that is designed to serve the community, inclusion is extremely important to the success of the mission. Project GROWS mission is “to improve the health of children and youth in Staunton, Waynesboro, and Augusta.” Project GROWS mission is not “To improve the health of some children and youth...” So, how do we welcome community members with limited or alternative mobility to a space riddled with inconsistent earth and ever-changing conditions? How do we provide garden-based activities that are inclusive of students who experience tactile defensiveness? While the temptation is to think of inventive solutions by jerry-rigging and guessing, these good intentions often cause us to miss out on an opportunity to include others.
So often we design spaces and make plans according to what we are familiar or comfortable with. When we paint portraits and landscapes with many colors, we create depth and are able to represent the true nature of our subject. If we paint with only one color, we might capture the general shape or texture of our subject, but the result we get is not true or whole. When we include more than one perspective, putting more than one color on a canvas, the result is vibrant and can benefit all of us, not just some of us.
My hope for organizations like Project GROWS and AMI, who strive to improve everyone’s quality of life, is that we will always move in the direction of inclusion. Outdoor education can benefit every person, if they are given the chance to experience it. What I most appreciated about the Wenonah Inclusion Day Fair is that it is not just designed to introduce people with disabilities to organizations. This event is designed to open up a conversation between the community at large and any person who participates in it, encouraging us to ask “What is your experience?” When we invite other perspective in, we are able to improve the quality of what we put out.
In preparing for this event, I created a few different graphics to illustrate my hope for the future of any organization serving the public. In doing this, I continually came up with designs that included these words: “A garden has something to offer everyone. Everyone has something to offer a garden.” Through my time with AMI, which is quickly approaching its end, I have continually been reminded of this truth, though I am just now putting words to it. I came into AMI with little plant knowledge, having spent significantly more time with people and animals than with plants. I knew that a garden had a great deal to offer me and was ready to receive every last bite of it, but I did not know that I had something to offer a garden. Working together as a group of Fellows during Phase I, balancing out one another’s strengths and weaknesses, was a beautiful representation of how I hope to live out my life. Where I am lacking, someone else can thrive. Where I have strength, someone else can benefit.
The world has something to offer everyone. Everyone has something to offer the world.