Growing up with autism can be challenging, but with the right support, children can live healthy and fulfilling lives. A West Side organization working to empower young adults on the autism spectrum to learn life skills.
When it comes to agriculture, 21-year-old Alejandro Sánchez knows what is important when it comes to growing vegetables.
“Collaboration. Like people can have your back and help each other,” Sanchez said.
Alejandro Sanchez has been associated with Growing Solutions Farm for three years.
“People grow vegetables here and donate them to people who need vegetables at home,” said Alejandro Sanchez.
The 1.2-Acre Produce Farm is a hands-on program that teaches young adults like Sanchez the basics of farming with the goal of improving their social and business skills.
The farm is part of Urban Autism Solutions, also known as UAS, an organization Julie and Michael Tracy were inspired to create while struggling to find adult services for their son John, who has autism.
“Our family was hurt as we sought services, and we knew we had to support John and build a community with like-minded people,” said Julie Tracy. “A compassionate community for him to work in, thrive in, and grow in.”
The organization recently celebrated its 10th anniversary and followed previous participants like Elvis Sanchez to show what they learned.
“I’m having a great time doing it,” said Elvis Sanchez. “I’ve never planted seedlings before and this is my first time planting so I’ll just watch and learn how to do it.”
Elvis Sanchez started the Growing Solutions Farm program last summer and has since picked up skills to prepare for job opportunities.
Elvis Sanchez said, “We’re learning about interviews, how to prepare for interviews, prepare well.”
UAS also works with various schools on the West Side to provide a variety of free services to help young adults ages 16-22.
“We’re really offering skills that we don’t think schools have time for, in terms of social work services, social thinking and communication,” said Julie Tracy. “So that our students can be successful once they achieve their first job.”
The founders say they’ve helped hundreds of young adults find jobs and inspired them to pursue goals.
“I wanted to be an FBI and then I changed careers. People need a mental health counselor and I have a mental health counselor who has helped me a lot and who inspires me,” says Alejandro Sanchez.
According to Elvis Sanchez, the program offered a variety of options to feel free and to meet the challenges of their disability.
“I’ve had a difficult time since becoming disabled. I said to my mother, ‘Why was I born like this?’ said Elvis Sanchez. “I should have been born normal. I cried, but my mother always said it’s okay that I’m disabled. I realized something had changed that I should be proud of as a person.”