Autism Program, Community Cultivation join to strengthen services |

Autism Program, Community Cultivation join to strengthen services

Margaret Hair

Sam Lawrence pulls weeds from around the garden plot at the Yampa River Botanic Park where he and other young people were working as part of the Community Cultivation program.

— The Yampa Valley Autism Program has merged with Community Cultivation in an effort to combine skill sets and offer services to a larger population of residents.

The Autism Program, a community nonprofit group focusing on assisting people with autism spectrum disorder, acquired Community Cultivation on Jan. 1, said Lu Etta Loeber, executive director of the Autism Program.

Community Cultivation is a work-simulated horticulture program for people 14 or older who have disabilities or are considered at-risk. The group maintains five garden plots at the Yampa River Botanic Park and during the summer sells products from that garden at the Mainstreet Farmers Market in downtown Steamboat Springs.

The program integrates social and life skills curriculum to help participants build work-related skills and self-sufficiency, Community Cultivation co-director Beth Davison said.

"They come in, they've got their jobs, they've got their specific things that they do, and it's a work environment. They learn this is what's expected in a work situation," Davison said. That atmosphere helps participants build skills they might not get elsewhere, she said.

Merging with Yampa Val­ley Autism Program allows Com­munity Cultivation to apply for grants under the Autism Program's 501(c)(3) nonprofit status, Davison said. It also gives the garden work program access to the Autism Program's board of directors.

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"They're going to be able to help facilitate and guide us and support us tenfold," Davison said.

Loeber said the merger will help strengthen the Autism Program's social thinking and cognition program offerings and that it allows the organization to reach more people.

Community Cultivation co-director Dana Colgan leads the Autism Program's social thinking and cognition programs, Loeber said. Her training as a behavior specialist "brings a skill set to Yampa Valley Autism that we do not have," Loeber said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disabilities that can cause severe social, communication and behavior challenges."

Yampa Valley Autism Pro­g­r­am serves people with autism spectrum disorder and their families. Community Cultivation reaches out to any person with any disability and to at-risk youths. The garden program had 22 participants in 2009, and is getting ready to start its third year.

"Regardless of the severity of the disorder, a lot of these kids have difficulty with communication and social skills, and this gardening program really helps those kids to work through that," Loeber said.

Community Cultivation will retain its name and its staff in the merger, Loeber said.