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'Watch Us Farm' building a future in the workforce for adults with special needs

Hiring Hoosiers
Posted: 6:00 AM, Sep 10, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-10 08:58:08-04

Hiring Hoosiers is an initiative from RTV6 that works to connect Hoosiers to employment opportunities, career development resources, training programs and educational paths. Learn more about Hiring Hoosiers and see new stories weekdays at 6 a.m. on RTV6.

ZIONSVILLE — The streets of Zionsville look a whole lot brighter and parking will be a lot easier for drivers thanks to the hard work of a painting crew.

Three individuals made up the team from an organization called Watch Us Farm. One member of the crew is an adult with intellectual disabilities named Alex Gillihan and the other two are volunteers. Together they are painting the yellow curbs along Main Street in Zionsville and with each curb they learn and get better.

"Oh it feels amazing," Gillihan said as he took a quick break from painting. "I've been making good friends."

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The summer has been a busy one at work for Gillihan. As a part of Watch Us Farm, he works on a small micro-farm in the area doing various duties and tasks to keep the place running in tiptop shape.

"I've been planting fruits and vegetables. I've been going to the trails, painting," Gillihan said.

The small farm is the brainchild of Janice Agarwal. Together with her husband they run Watch Us Farm to provide job training to adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"You know we don't take money for this," Agarwal said. "My husband and I do this because it's what we want to do and I want people to have jobs."

Agarwal lived for some time in Europe and was inspired by the concept that these adults work on these community farms. They learn skills and are vital parts of the communities where they live.

"It gives quality of life. It gives a community something to support. There are lots of volunteers and it changes their lives," Agarwal said. "So when you start seeing this all over the world, I wanted it here."

Agarwal said when she brought the concept to the Town of Zionsville they were nothing but supportive, asking how they can help support this mission and provided jobs for the adults to do as they learn new skills.

Agarwal and her team work together to break down the jobs and tasks into simple steps. They take pictures and document everything. They figure out what works and what needs to be changed so that they have a clear guide to help these individuals train for jobs.

Watch Us Farm provides a safety nets for these adults who are high functioning and can do work, but they aren't able to be completely independent. Change is one of the biggest challenges these individuals face and so Agarwal and her team work closely on consistency and planning ahead for changes in tasks.

LEARN MORE | Watch Us Farm

No one is ever fired for a behavior issue. When issues arise, they figure out solutions. She says the folks with Watch Us Farm want to be a part of their lives for a long time and she considers the adults who work here her own kids.

"Sometimes they can be totally independent but they may need you to check on them," Agarwal said. "So we want to be that safety net for them."

As Agarwal and her staff learn more about the individuals and are able to teach them tasks, she hopes to be able to help place them in jobs as they partner with towns, cities and local businesses.

Right now they work with people in Zionsville, Carmel and Lebanon.

"We kind of figure out what they can and cannot do and how they learn," Agarwal said. "Someone asks me could they do this job? I now know how I can break it down and I can start learning how to place kids."

As the crew paints curbs, Gillihan gets paid for his work. He also gets practice working on the task and working with his crew.

Agarwal has big plans for the future including vocational programs at the farm, a farm-to-table restaurant, and more.
In order to make this happen, they need the community's support through partnerships and donations. They also need volunteers to work alongside these adults with disabilities.

She also wants to know your business could use a worker like Gillihan and how she can help facilitate that.

"They work hard. They'll do the same thing every single day for 10 years and they'll be fine with that, you know," Agarwal said. "They just don't do change that well."