Friday, April 29, 2011

My Brother’s Keeper: Through a new garden, two brothers help each other and educate a community

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Taylor Fairbanks (center right) hands gardening
gloves to a Community Companions student. His
mother, Amy (center), and his brother,
Douglas (center left) helped plant the garden.
Taylor Fairbanks had a great idea for an Eagle Scout Project. Why not work with the staff and kids of our Kennedy Institute’s Community Companions program to plant an urban garden?

For almost two months, he’s worked endlessly to plan, fund and execute his project – building a garden that can be enjoyed by kids with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities. The project is part of his journey to become an Eagle Scout, the highest honor of the Boy Scouts of America. But his real reason for involvement with Kennedy is far more personal – his little brother Douglas. Douglas, 13, was born with autism and spends his weekdays with the teachers and staff at our Community Companions program in Rockville learning and playing.
Through the garden project, Taylor hopes to make an important point: Kids living with autism and intellectual developmental disabilities can and do make valuable contributions to society. In the process, he hopes to teach them more about life, responsibility, and healthy eating – and reinforce Kennedy’s existing curriculum of inclusion and learning.
"I think that he's responsible to care for his own plants, just like all people with autism. This is a great way for Douglas and his classmates to learn more about growing plants and taking care of something," Taylor said.

Taylor and Douglas help Community Companion
students plant tomatoes and green peppers.
It all culminated early this week when the kids got their hands dirty churning soil and transplanting potted plants into their new vegetable garden.  And from the looks of it, you can expect this summer's salad to be loaded with delicious, juicy tomatoes and ripe green peppers. Local nurseries and home improvement stores donated a bulk of the garden supplies, including the plants. Taylor, his parents and a number of moms and dads of the Boy Scout troop contributed more plants and helped prepare the plots.

The troop upped the wow factor of the plot by constructing cedar garden boxes, filling them with soil, and installing a bench and flower pots just a few feet away, where kids, parents and teachers can now read a book or chat near the garden.  An impressive harvest is sure to follow later this summer.

Amy Fairbanks, Taylor's mother, explained that "this is a great way to show citizenship in the community. These kids are ready to take care of something, to watch it grow into new life."

Amy added, "At the same time, we're informing people. So many people don’t know a lot about autism. We're offering them a glimpse into the lives of people who are living with autism or are experiencing another kind of intellectual developmental disability." 

This project represents a wonderful way for our kids to learn how they can contribute, and it's an equally wonderful way our neighbors can learn about our kids and their lives. The message is perfect for a program like Community Companions that focuses on empowerment and inclusion. So a big shout out from The Open Door Blog and the Kennedy Institute to Taylor and his awesome vision and for including us in his Eagle Scout project.  

Now, if you don't mind, pass the salad?

In observance of Arbor Day and National Autism Awareness Month, we invite you to learn more about Community Companions and our other programs that provide support to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities--and we encourage you to support important learning activities like these. To learn more about how you can donate materials to maintain our garden, contact Brennan Gamwell at

Be sure to check out more pictures of our urban garden on Catholic Charities' Facebook page.