Ever since we had Nate, Chad and I have given up on the niceties that come with courtship.  Valentine’s Day used to bring roses and chocolates.  We would make Easter baskets for one another.  Christmas meant a bounty of presents.  Now that we can see holidays through Nate’s eyes or, more to the point, relive our holiday memories through our child, we haven’t a want for any of those things.  We get a kick out of pointing out special things that Nate might like to the Easter Bunny, who this year brought Nate a basket of Curious George books, a Winnie the Pooh coloring book, a t-ball set, and a package of watermelon jelly beans (that were rejected because they didn’t look right).  We love creating valentines with Nate for friends and family.  And we have a hoot in secret meetings with Santa about what might go under the tree.  But two holidays remain that are kind of sacred: birthdays and parent days, namely Mother’s and Father’s Day, because those are actually days that celebrate us and, well, we need a little celebrating every now and again.

For Chad’s first Father’s Day, I had a custom onesie made up for Nate to wear that said, “My Dad Chad is Rad.”  (Nate’s head was too big for it and I had to cut out the neck ring.)  For Mother’s Day, we often go out to eat (at a place of my choice) and there are gifts and flowers and fun.

Let it be known that I am a big time bargain hunter and, if Chad buys me flowers, he better have gone to that website and used this coupon stacked with that other coupon to get the flowers for free.  But there’s been a bit of guilt associated with purchasing flowers that way.  First off, they’re so rarely grown in the United States, so we’re not supporting local growers.  And then the money just goes to a giant corporation that doesn’t seem to be giving back to communities in significant ways and, as a nonprofit baby, that doesn’t ring right to me.  Yes, if you go to a specific link, ProFlowers gives $10 of your purchase to Autism Speaks and other online floral vendors like 1-800-Flowers and Teleflora give 5%-6% of your purchase cost to the same nonprofit but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what they’re earning on an annual basis.

Then we discovered Roses for Autism and all felt right in the world.  Roses for Autism is based in Guilford, Connecticut and was founded in 2009 by a dad to an awesome kid who, yes, happens to be autistic. In addition to being one of the last and largest rose farms in the United States, they were established as a nonprofit to tackle this issue: 1 in 88 have autism.  12% of adults with autism are employed.  Chew on that one for a minute.

Now, do I think the future for Nate and his pals on the spectrum is bleak?  Not. At. All.  Early intervention wasn’t widely available for the generation of autistic individuals who are now adults and so many more opportunities exist for Nate and his friends.  However, those on the spectrum are a special set of individuals and don’t blend in with the normal 9-5 work crowd.  They likely cannot be trained for employment in the same way as neurotypical individuals and they require individualized attention to help them get on the right path.  And that’s exactly what Roses for Autism does.  They use their rose farm “to build transferable social and job readiness skills via a customized training program” and “to prepare and bridge employment opportunities for individuals with autism within businesses across Connecticut.”  (Their program mission statement is here.)

And how do they do this?  They sell roses.  Like ProFlowers or 1-800-Flowers, they have their own 1-800 number and online sales portal.  And they use these roses to train autistic adults in three career tracks: agriculture, retail/customer service, and e-marketing/information technology.  Then they transition them into the workforce at large and provide them with support for job search and placement.  Flowers never smelled so sweet.

Let it be known that I’m not paid for this blog entry; we’re just giant fans — of Roses for Autism’s mission, work, and presence in the community.  Nate and I took a field trip to their store last week and, in addition to the roses, they sell flats of pansies, vegetables (lettuce was out in full force), and giant, beautiful flowering baskets that are nearly half the price of Home Depot and ten times as lovely.  We came home with a rustic pail overflowing with double pansies and snapdragons and Nate selected a pot of English daisies, which he insists on picking every day.

We’ve already ordered a bouquet of roses for my mother-in-law for Mother’s Day from Roses for Autism and hope to be able to volunteer there in the future; they welcome assistance for packaging and boxing roses at peak times like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.  A dozen roses, grown in America, and shipped was about $70; two dozen were a little over $100.  If that’s too pricey, you can get a beautiful dried rose wreath ($45) or post a puzzle piece with the name of a loved one ($10).  100% percent of the sales price goes right back into employing adults with autism.  One-hundred-percent.

So, as Mother’s Day approaches, consider getting those roses from Roses for Autism.  Your mom — and a very particular community — will be pleased you did!

PS Our lives have been a bit hectic as of late and I haven’t been able to blog as much as I like.  I do periodic posts on Nate’s Facebook page – so join us over there, too!

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