A New Leaf in Tulsa Helps Those in Need
In the Tulsa area there are approximately 24,000 individuals with developmental disabilities, but only 1,000 of those individuals are employed or receiving vocational training. Since its opening in 1979, A New Leaf has been developing programs to fight this statistic. Jordan Didier, development and community relations coordinator, says, “Our mission is to provide individuals with developmental disabilities with life skills, marketable job training though horticultural therapy, community-based vocational placement, and residential services to increase their independence and individual choices.”
A New Leaf, located at 2306 1st Pl. in Broken Arrow, OK, was created through the vision of Stan and Irene Burnstein. They wanted their daughter who has a developmental disability to have innovative and meaningful work in her life. “They traveled all over the United States looking for models to bring back to Tulsa,” Didier explained. They eventually found a business in Maryland called Melwood Horticultural Center. The couple loved the concept and used it as a model for A New Leaf, which they opened in May, 1979.
Initially, A New Leaf served only two individuals. It now serves over 269 clients in a variety of vocational and residential programs. “A New Leaf does not have a waiting list, so if families in our community have an individual with a disability and a need for services, we encourage them to call and inquire about us.” Didier said.
Some of these services might include working in one of the six greenhouses, where thousands of plants are grown every year. The plant nursery also operates its own wholesale route and two retail centers. A New Leaf even has a school-to-work program where students from local high schools can attend school for half the day and then work for the rest of it, which helps the students acquire work skills that will ease their transition to employment after graduation.
A New Leaf also partners with several local businesses including hotels, churches, and daycares to create employment opportunities for those going through the program. In addition to the vocational programs, A New Leaf provides residential services to those living independently in the Tulsa area. They provide around-the-clock assistance with basic care to these individuals to ensure they are learning skills to be independent, contributing members of the community.
While most of the work takes place at the facility, A New Leaf has recently created a program that caters specifically to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder in middle and high school. That program called Autism Works! is currently offered in nine Tulsa public middle schools and the hope is to expand to every Tulsa public middle school.
The program helps teens transition into adulthood by exposing them to the community and to work experiences at an early age. The students engage with peer mentors in volunteer work at various community sites because the more they interact with individuals without disabilities, the more independent they become.
“Facilitators teach and allow plenty of opportunities to practice social skills during the course of the workday,” Didier said, which helps the clients become more comfortable in the process.
In addition to volunteering or donating money, the community can support A New Leaf by purchasing plants at one of the retail centers. “Instead of buying from large home improvement stores or big box nurseries, buy locally from us because your dollar goes further,” Didier said. By doing this, a consumer is able to purchase a quality product while improving the lives of individuals with disabilities.
“Individuals with developmental disabilities are just like individuals without developmental disabilities,” Didier said. “They have the same hopes, dreams, and passions; however, a lot of times people assume differently. As an organization it is our goal to provide them with the skills they need to make those hopes, dreams and passions come to fruition.”