Nonprofit Bridge21 grows vegetables, flowers, community
Group partnered with Summit Community Gardens
When the nonprofit Bridge21 approached Summit Community Gardens with its idea for a summer gardening program, it seemed to both sides like a perfect partnership. Bridge21’s mission is connecting adults with mental disabilities in the Park City area with housing and creating a support network in the community.
Bridge21 Director Liza Howell said the Buds & Bloom program began in May as a creative and healthy way to grow the Bridge21 community. After a year of COVID restrictions, she said, bringing everyone together in the fresh air and sunshine “sounded like a dream.”
“While children and young adults with intellectual disabilities get to see each other during the school year … there wasn’t anything regularly scheduled during the summer to look forward to,” she said. “So we decided to create some fun summer plans for our Bridge21 youth, and Summit Community Gardens proved to be the perfect place for us.”
Sloane Johnson, executive director of Summit Community Gardens, said Howell approached her to sign up for plots earlier this year and explained to her what the group is all about.
“I was excited because we had just received a grant for adaptive gardening tools and were working to make sure the garden was accessible to everyone no matter what their limitations were,” Johnson said. “It was not until she started bringing people into the garden did I get to know the program and see how much fun it was to have Bridge21 in the garden.”
Howell attended classes and asked plenty of questions, Johnson said, but Bridge21 maintained its own plots. She said it was a pleasure to watch participants and their gardens grow over the summer.
“They have weekly gatherings to work together in the garden, and not only are they growing a plethora of veggies, they use the space to socialize and learn,” Johnson said. “One example is a night they were in the garden where I was working with the bees. Some of them were interested and I was able to show them what the honeycomb looked like, answer their questions and let them taste fresh honey from our hive.”
Howell said Bridge21 did have a lot of support from the Summit Community Gardens staff, including two master gardeners who answered questions, offered guidance and provided inspiration. They met every other Wednesday from May through August, enjoyed snacks and crafts or garden games and got to work tending their plots.
“We had a blast and surprised ourselves at how fun and uplifting it was to watch the miracle of seeds spring into flowers and vegetables,” Howell said.
It was satisfying, she said, but as all gardeners know it was also a lot of work.
“Our participants weeded, grew seeds in little paper cups, planted the seedlings in the beds we’d prepared, made fun flower stakes, took turns watering and weeding through our weekly sign-up (sheet) and shared flowers with the community and special back-tos-chool bouquets for Park City School District special education teachers,” Howell said.
The plots produced plenty of squash, zucchini, peas and eggplant.
“Now we are patiently waiting for tomatoes to ripen while pumpkins are bright orange and growing by the minute,” she said. “This created a real sense of accomplishment.”
Johnson said Summit Community Gardens is a space for people to gather, learn and grow, and she is grateful to have Bridge21 as a part of that space.
“They exemplify everything the garden stands for,” she said. “They are so much fun, positive and eager to learn. I love their story and how they feel the garden has been a great place for them as much as we love having them.”
Howell said Bridge21 hopes to offer a variety of housing options to its members, whether rural or urban, and establishing a relationship with Summit Community Gardens is a step in that direction.
“Some Bridge21 individuals will thrive in a rural, farm setting where accommodations include housing, vocational and recreational options on site while others will want to live in a more urban setting taking advantage of public transportation for work and play,” she said.
Regardless of whether they have their own gardens someday, Howell said she hopes they can maintain a relationship with Summit Community Gardens.
“At Summit Community Gardens we were welcomed, we enjoyed talking with neighboring gardeners and being part of the bigger community of Park City and Summit County,” she said. “That is truly what we are aiming for. The ‘community’ piece is priceless.”
For those unfamiliar, Bridge21 is focused on future housing opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities and raising awareness about the need for it in Park City and Summit County.
“So many families move here for the wonderfully integrated public schools and the recreational opportunities of the National Ability Center,” Howell said. “When young adults graduate at 21 from the Learning Center there aren’t many options for supported housing. Family after family has had to move away to find appropriate, affordable housing, meaningful employment and community connections for their loved one.”
The goal of Bridge21 is to raise awareness, build community and connect with supported housing whether existing or soon to be developed.
“Intellectual disabilities include a wide range of abilities,” Howell said. “Autism spectrum disorder, Down syndrome, traumatic brain injury, et cetera, so the solution to this crisis will need to be a variety of options.”
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City Hall and the Arts Council of Park City and Summit County presents Pumpkin Fest at Bonanza Art Park next week.