A community garden that will help train, socialize and mainstream children and adults with autism won the top prize in the Promise Competition during the wrapup Saturday of the 2014 Speak Out for Kids campaign.
The working garden, proposed by the St. Gerard House and its Grotto School for the treatment and support of children with autism and their families, won a $10,000 grant that the school plans to use to buy supplies and other materials to plant the garden this spring.
The campaign was designed to draw attention to gaps in Henderson County in a set of "5 Promises" that research shows will help young people become successful adults — Be a Caring Adult, Provide Safe Places, Provide A Healthy Start, Deliver an Effective Education, and Provide Opportunities to Serve.
The effort involved recorded programs that identify gaps and successful strategies, "listening sessions" during which people listened to and responded to the sessions and Saturday's wrap-up.
After the presentation of five proposals for the Promise grant, judges selected three finalists. Then the people who attended the Saturday morning event voted by text for the winner.
In a surprise, the runner-ups also won money.
An anonymous donor approached Children and Family Resource Center Director Elisha Freeman during the event and offered a $5,000 grant each to the second and third place finishers.
The five finalists were "Feed the Need," the community garden for children and adults with autism, by the St. Gerard House, a business enterprise program run by the Boys and Girls Club, "Balanced Weigh," an educational program for parents of children at risk of obesity; a sensory motor room, also by the St. Gerard House; and a Partners in Reading program by Smart Start.
Winners of the $5,000 grants were the Boys and Girls Club business training for kids and Smart Start's early reading initiative.
"When we launched these little businesses, it was with the real intent that they could spin off into the world and become their own entity," said Boys and Girls Club Director Kevin Lauritsen. "These entrepreneurs will become spenders and savers and taxpayers in our community."
The community garden fits well with the strong emphasis that the Gerard House puts on nutrition.
"There's an immense resource of organic growers here," Long said. "Nutrition is a big part of what we teach at Grotto. The garden really is an agent to get these kids socially engaged and teach them the soft skills they're not taught in schools."