By Jennifer LaRue
Frank Denney likes to make things grow. Now he has a job doing just that, thanks to Ohio University-Lancaster and several of its community partners.
A recent ceremony on the Lancaster campus celebrated the launch of the GROW Project, a collaboration involving Ohio University-Lancaster, Fairfield County Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities/Fairfield Industries and Allen's Lancaster Greenhouse.
Denney, a young adult with a developmental disability and a passion for gardening, has held various jobs in the community and at Fairfield Industries. He successfully completed a six-week master gardener program a couple of years ago. But until now, horticulture was simply a hobby he pursued by tending a garden at his group home in Lancaster.
He now spends each day planting and cultivating hundreds of tomato and pepper plants, ornamental grasses, hanging baskets and annuals in the Lancaster campus greenhouse.
Associate Dean John Furlow worked with local horticulturists and greenhouse managers to develop the partnership, which also made possible a student internship with Fairfield County MRDD.
Allen's Lancaster Greenhouse will retail the plants Denney is growing in the campus greenhouse.
"Our own greenhouse space is limited," said Rob Allen, owner of Allen's Lancaster Greenhouse. "Instead of purchasing plants from outside the area, we're able to monitor the process and keep the business local.
"After working with Frank the first day, I knew we had made the right decision to do this," Allen added. "He's one of the hardest workers I've ever been around, and you can tell that he truly loves what he's doing."
The GROW Project is not the first collaboration between Ohio University-Lancaster and Fairfield County MRDD. The two also partner to operate THE ZONE, the food service and vending operation serving students, faculty and staff. The service has grown to include on- and off-site catering for groups of up to 200.
"(It is) a big success story for us as far as creating opportunities for people with disabilities to work in the community," John Pekar, superintendent at Fairfield MRDD, said of THE ZONE. "We're hoping for the same success with the GROW Project, which will also give us an opportunity to provide horticulture therapy services for both children and adults in our program. We're grateful to have such a strong supporter and partner in Ohio University-Lancaster."