The CHAI Works garden bears triumph and a carrot

Shrieks of joy rang out from the CHAI Works garden as day program participants beheld their first harvest: a perfect carrot. Talk immediately turned to carrot soup, carrot cake, carrot salad, and all the wonderful things the participants could make in their cooking groups.

The orange victory was especially sweet because of the triumph it represented over last year’s efforts. “We did some research about what we did wrong and did better this year,” said Kathryn Friel, director of day programs. “We decided today was the day we were going to pull one out and see how it was.”

Gardening is just one of the many educational activities CHAI Works participants experience throughout the year – and it’s quickly become a perennial favorite, thanks to volunteers from Gann Academy and PSG Equity who helped break ground on the garden patch. After taking in an introductory presentation on planting a garden, participants headed outside to get their hands dirty—tilling the soil, planting vegetable starts, and putting seeds in the ground.

“They’ve been out there every single day, keeping track of when it rains. They've been committed to doing a good job, and so proud it paid off.”

A watering schedule they made together hangs on the wall in CHAI Works, and every day participants take turns watering the garden, building skills following a routine and watching their efforts bear fruit.

“They’ve been out there every single day, keeping track of when it rains,” said Friel. “They've been committed to doing a good job, and so proud it paid off.”

Designed for adults aged 22 and above who have intellectual and developmental disabilities, the CHAI Works day program fosters community, skill-building, and personal fulfillment in individuals to help them lead productive and integrated lives in their communities and increase their feelings of self-worth and confidence. The program operates in Waltham and Canton.

Participants enjoy an array of educational, recreational, and enrichment experiences. They take part in health and wellness activities and a variety of lifelong learning classes. Together with staff, they volunteer each week at local nonprofits where they develop job skills, soft skills, and interests. “In all of the volunteer work they do, we really try to help them understand the impact it has in their community, and how people can receive help and be helpful at the same time,” said Friel. “They take a lot of pride in the opportunities they have to support their communities and help other people.”

Many participants hone their skills further and pursue jobs with coaching and support from CHAI employment services. All of them pursue individual goals and experience the gratification of meaningful, productive activity as they learn and grow.