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Metro Parks greenhouse internships prepare young people for the work world

June 11, 2018

Tacoma Public Schools partnership serves 18- to 21-year-olds with disabilities

If you’re sometimes stricken by the beauty of Metro Parks Tacoma’s seasonal floral displays, you may wonder who made them happen.

Every year, thousands of young annual flowers are successfully nurtured in Metro Parks’ greenhouses before they are exhibited in the parks and in the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Wright Park.

It’s a feat that hinges in part on a little-known group of young people enrolled in a Tacoma Public Schools internship called Community-Based Transition. CBT, as it’s called, prepares students 18 to 21 years old who qualify for Special Education Services to prepare them for future employment and independence.

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Currently, CBT serves about 80 young people with its combination of job training and life-skills coaching. Of those, four are unpaid interns in the Metro Parks greenhouse complex, recently relocated from Point Defiance Park to a site on the Tacoma landfill.

A recent morning found the interns flanked by dozens of trays of lemonade zinnias, sun-loving flowers that needed a bit of sprucing up before trucking to their ultimate showcase: Point Defiance Park. Using fingers and small pruning shears, interns Roni, Kendyl, Aidan and Kayla carefully pinched and snipped away dead and dying leaves and stems. What to an outsider looked like tedious work totally absorbed the young women’s attention; when they were done, only healthy flowers remained.

Interns spend six hours a day, four days a week in the greenhouse complex, accompanied by their Tacoma Public Schools job coach, Kristine Johnson, and under the direction of Scott Bassett, a Metro Parks horticultural technician, who oversees greenhouse operations. The Metro Parks greenhouse complex is one of 13 sites throughout Tacoma where CBT interns are engaged. Without their help at the greenhouse, a lot of hands-on, Metro Parks horticultural work would not get done, Bassett said.

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A few weeks before their greenhouse internships would end, the young women were happy to tally up the benefits of their experience. Kendyl, 19, put it this way: “I like working with the plants, helping them get better, helping them stay alive. I like growing them, taking care of them, transplanting them.”

Several said they would recommend the greenhouse internship to others. “It’s a lot different than high school,” said Roni, who is 20. “No classes. We’re working indoors and outdoors, and we meet new people.”

Bassett is the only Metro Parks employee who works full time in the greenhouse complex. One of his seasonal assistants, Matt Brown, 23, is a former CBT intern. “He’s our success story,” his former coach, Johnson, said with pride. On the job, Brown barely stops moving, shuttling plants on a cart from one greenhouse to another and performing other duties as needed. What does he like best? “Watering,” he said. “For some reason it calms me down.”

Emanuel is a past graduate of the greenhouse internship. His mother, Theresa Holland, raved about its benefits. “His attitude changed so much about being in the work force.”

The efforts of interns benefit Metro Parks in several ways. One is by performing the kind of plant grooming that the zinnias needed before they were ready for public display. Depending on their abilities, interns also:

  • Recycle Metro Parks’ plastic plant pots, containers and flat trays (Unlike most commercial greenhouse operations, which routinely dump plastics, Metro Parks recycles 90 percent. Interns clean and check empty containers, discarding only the broken ones.)
  • Compost plants and plant materials no longer needed for public exhibits
  • Assist with greenhouse inventory
  • Transplant and move plants
  • Water plants
  • Occasionally help fill flower beds outside the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Wright Park

Tacoma Public Schools has run the Community Based Transition service for about 25 years, but the relationship with Metro Parks and its greenhouses dates back much further, Bassett said. Metro Parks has provided opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities for more than 60 years.

For the past several years, CBT has been closely associated with Metro Parks’ Specialized Recreation program, with a focus on the same audience. Once a month, Specialized Recreation leaders orchestrate outings for all CBT participants through a program called Realize Recreation. Past field trips have taken CBT participants horseback riding, to Meadow Park Golf Course for foot golf and on a trip to Seattle’s Frye Art Museum via the Sounder train.

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Contact:        

Michael Thompson, Metro Parks Tacoma, (253) 305-1092; michaelt@tacomaparks.com