Jen Stuart's story begins back in 2002 when she employed a young man with an intellectual impairment in her gardening and landscaping business. It was then that she realised that her business was able to help these people in a way that would empower them to believe in themselves.

By 2006 Jen was able to employ 9 people with intellectual impairment. By 2009 Jen had 14 employees and today has 17 people that range from Physical, Psychiatric, Intellectual Disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome, Autism and Acquired Brain Injuries.

 Over time Jen became aware of the desperate need to help in other areas such as literacy, numeracy and life skills. Her employees were unable to write their name or read, with not being taught to brush their teeth and unable to dress in the proper manner for work activities. Her employees were lacking in every day manners and respect or knowledge of life skills.

 Jen said, “One young person had no idea what a Joey was. We were learning words starting with the letter J.” Jen also said, “She had a person who bought his own birthday card as he had never been given a card and another person went to the dentist and drank the mouth wash as he did not know that it was to rinse your mouth as nobody had told him”.

Jen’s desire to help these people was her priority and the top of the list they needed more than just a job - they needed education. It was all there in front of her but what could she do. With no financial help it was not going to be easy but Jen would study and get her Diploma in Horticulture, Landscape, Business, Management and OHS along with her BSA Landscape Construction License and then a friend said, “she should study for her teaching attainment”. So that was next on the list and she passed with honours.

So what happened next was Jen asked a Nursery if she could use their lunch room for classes and that is how it all began.

Jen taught them literacy and numeracy skills and thought how good it would be for them to actually get a certificate. So it took 2 years to put seven people through their Certificate I in Horticulture also combined with literacy and what a graduation they had – thanks to many volunteers who helped.

Now Jen is teaching her employees their Certificate II in Horticulture and those involved all look forward to classes. By providing a safe environment where the disadvantaged in our community are empowered to believe in their abilities built on a solid foundation of trust.

It is an environment that fosters self-esteem and self-worth in all creating, an incentive by giving them this opportunity to “learn by doing”. As the people have not had the opportunity for academic success and having a curriculum delivered outside the box, they are now able to experience the joy of learning.

The group has a market garden situated at 2 Market Street, Carrara that assist with their classes and Jen believes that everyone can achieve if given a chance. Education is the key. By “learning by doing” they have been able to achieve things that others perhaps thought not possible. They are all achieving fantastic results and the people who could not write their own names are proud as they can now write their own name but also have their Certificate I in Horticulture. Since achieving milestones we have taken the group to David Fleay’s Wildlife Park and we all know what a Joey is. We also go to McDonalds for birthdays and no-one no longer needs to buy his own birthday card.

Jen’s goal is to continue helping the disadvantaged in our community and to keep on studying as the more Jen learns the better she can help by allocating work that is suited to each individual needs. Seeing the group achieve is what keeps Jen employing more and more disadvantaged individuals. Jen said, “Just seeing them smile and happy is a wonderful feeling.”

Jen’s employees all work and learn as a group helping one another. They are taught respect and manners and when they get a call to help another person everyone attends. Jen and the group help each other as they have all been there and know how they feel and Jen teaches that everyone should be treated equally and not discriminated against for any reason.