By Jennifer LaRue
Ohio University-Lancaster and Fairfield County Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities have proven that partnerships can be successful, an example that the campus was recognized for last week.
When their student lounge food service and vending provider departed, Ohio University Lancaster Campus officials decided that they wanted to involve local organizations and invest in the community. They turned to Fairfield County's MRDD community employment and training program, Fairfield Industries.
Similarly, as Dean John Furlow considered the under-utilized greenhouse on the campus, he looked to local horticulture experts and again to Fairfield Industries. The GROW Project emerged, partnering higher education, the county MRDD agency, and a local retailer in growing and marketing plants.
"Fairfield Industries did so well with our food service in The Zone," Furlow said about the campus' cafe, "that it seemed logical to see if, with all of the interest in gardening and landscaping, a program to utilize our greenhouse was possible. And we asked Rob Allen, of Allen's Lancaster Greenhouse, to provide technical expertise, to order and market the flower and vegetable plants grown in our greenhouse."
The Fairfield MRDD Vision Award was presented to Furlow and Allen last week at the Celebration of Possibilities inaugural award program at the Liberty Center in Lancaster. The award was created to recognize a Fairfield County business or service organization that embraces the concepts of inclusion and self-determination, and displays that commitment through innovation.
"Our goal is to recognize those individuals, businesses and organizations that embody our mission," said Fairfield MRDD superintendent John Pekar. "To connect resources and create opportunities so people can lead fulfilling lives and make meaningful contributions."
While Furlow is pleased with the partnerships and the recognition, he is especially gratified that the community collaboration brings individuals together on the Lancaster Campus.
"There are lots of winners in this process," he said, "including our students, who interact with the [Fairfield Industries] workers and realize what they can contribute."
The campus community has responded positively. With the support and encouragement of the Lancaster Campus staff, The Zone food service and vending operation has grown to include on- and off-site catering for groups as large as 200. Meanwhile, opportunities are being explored that would expand the GROW Project beyond spring plants -- currently, the project operates as a contract grower or supplier for Allen's greenhouse.
Furlow cited another way in which the collaborations benefit the campus and its students.
"One of my favorite parts of the partnerships is that the campus chapter of Phi Theta Kappa raises funds through Lancaster Greenhouse coupons -- plants raised here and sold at the greenhouse -- with a percentage of each sale going to PTK scholarships," Furlow said.
The Vision Award was presented along with six others at the Celebration of Possibilities event. Each winner received a custom-engraved acrylic obelisk and special recognition from U.S. Rep. Steve Austria (R-Ohio). Archie Griffin was the guest speaker.