When groups arrive at the Together We Grow greenhouse at Heritage Middle School for programming, they are often greeted by the smiling faces of Kimmey Burgess and Kaylyn Saenz.
It can get busy in there pretty quickly — with dirt flying and craft supplies everywhere — but the two Here We Grow Gardens assistants work as a team to stay on top of it all.
“Their help is so needed,” said Program Director Sarah Thomas. “Before you can even think of something you need, Kimmey and Kaylyn are there bringing it to you.”
The two women started their new jobs this summer and immediately established themselves as important parts of the Together We Grow team, Sarah said.
“They are such a help, and they are such a joy,” she said.
Founded in 2012, Together We Grow (TWG) maintains community gardens around the county, growing and donating thousands of pounds of produce to people in need. The organization also offers gardening education to local schools and programming for adults.
Its Here We Grow Gardens program, which receives funds from the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities, partners with local adult day services to bring adults with disabilities out to the greenhouse to learn how to garden.
With the success of that program, TWG began looking for ways to hire several people with disabilities as assistants, said Executive Director Pam Roberts.
After receiving a $10,000 grant from the Good Shepherd Foundation, TWG was able to start the hiring process for two part-time employees— to work one day a week, at $10 an hour.
Kimmey had been a long time volunteer at Together We Grow and was excited to apply.
She is a graduate of C-TEC’s horticulture program and has been working since she was a teenager.
But she was ready to find a job that was more fulfilling and laid back. A member of the Aktion Club of Licking County, she’s also passionate about helping people.
So she’s always happy to share her knowledge about plants with the people participating in the different programs.
“I like planting,” she said. “But really I love everything about working here.”
Working at TWG is Kaylyn’s first job. She began coming to the greenhouse with other participants from SPARK, and the owner of the day program recommended her to Pam and Sarah.
Kaylyn said she’s learning a lot and enjoys picking carrots and tomatoes.
One of Kimmey and Kaylyn’s biggest responsibilities is to help with deliveries to the community organizations who rely on TWG’s food donations, including the Main Place, St. Vincent Haven, Spencer House and Center for New Beginnings.
They help out during Here We Grow Gardens and some of the school programs and lend a hand with a variety of other jobs, from making soap, sorting seeds and helping with mailings. One day they cleaned and chopped 200 pounds of sweet potatoes.
They’ll also have a role in growing and harvesting microgreens, which will be used in local restaurants.
“That’s really fun to do,” Kimmey said. “And they are very healthy.”
They are learning to care for the fish in TWG’s aquaponics program, harvest luffa plants to make sponges and tend to its earthworm farms.
There’s so much to do that the women will be working all year round in the greenhouse and the office, with more gardening responsibilities in the spring.