HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Isabel Rosado said her 15-year-old son, Xavier, was thrilled to be back in school at St. Joseph’s Villa in Henrico County. The non-profit organization is dedicated to special needs children.
“When he saw them, the smile he had on his face. He remembered everybody at the school,” Rosado said. “He was where he was supposed to be.”
Xavier lives with autism and is non-verbal. His absence from school during the pandemic was very difficult.
“We tried virtual learning, but for him, he just couldn’t do it,” Rosado said.
After returning to St. Joseph’s, students like Xavier have found comfort in the company of familiar teachers, daily routines, and a special garden that served an incredible purpose during the pandemic.
The Villa Garden, situated in the courtyard of the school, was built seven years ago using a grant from Dominion Energy.
The garden has since received an upgrade that serves the school community in several ways.
The Villa Garden is a place where students harvest their own produce, plant their own herbs and flowers, and spend quality time during the day.
Garland Guion, a longtime instructor at St. Joseph’s, called the garden a special place where students find solace.
“For me, a lot of what I try to encourage is balance and I feel like being a part of nature is super important for lowering stress, for understanding what your body is telling you and just for a clearer perspective,” Guion said.
During the lockdown, staff members harvested produce for students and families facing food insecurities.
Over the past year, staff members drove 30,000 miles and delivered more than 50,000 pounds of food to those in need.
Now that students have returned to in-person learning, teachers and mentors hope students will be able to continue helping others while also finding peace, as they transition back to school after a stressful year.
“It’s become a stable place for kids to go if they’re having difficulties getting through the day,” says Matthew Kreydatus, St. Joseph’s Director of Career and Transition Services. “It’s a good time-out for staff just to take a break from the day. You can touch the plants, smell the herbs, and eat the fruit. It’s a great place to be but also serves that purpose of teaching job skills for later in life as well.”
Isabel Rosado said she was grateful for a garden where their children can grow and learn every day.
“Their work is precious, Rosado said. “They do a tremendous job.”
The segment is sponsored by WHOA Behavioral Health.