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Local man using experience to help people with disabilities develop job skills
His brother has developmental disabilities and Jon Shell says it just as easily could have been him. That drives a bond between Jon and Jeff that is opening doors of opportunities for others in Jeff's Corner Garden.
Jeff Shell is very open.
"I grew up with a slight disability. I went through several different programs, but I really couldn't find a job," Jeff said.
His brother Jon is his biggest supporter, "He had a disease; viral meningitis and that's what resulted in his developmental disabilities. I just told myself that any opportunity that I had to try to provide an opportunity or purpose for him, you know, I wanted to do everything I could."
Jon was determined that his brother would not languish at home. He applied for and received a state grant that helps individuals with disabilities start their own businesses; Jeff's Corner Garden was born. They literally started their plot in a "corner" of a community garden under the interstate overpass. They acquired a refrigerated bicycle cart to deliver their produce to downtown restaurants.They grew quickly and opened a second location on Barrancas Avenue.
Jon says, "Fast forward to today; three-and-a-half years later and we've grown into this."
"This" is an all-indoor, hydroponic operation.
Jeff explains what they do, "We grow kale, we grow arugula. We grow a lot of different lettuces. My favorite is wildfire lettuce."
They have a wide and ever-changing variety of produce. Jeff's Corner Garden is now located on the campus of Arc Gateway at 10th Avenue and Fairfield Drive in Pensacola.
The expansion was made possible because of another grant from Impact 100.
Michael Harmatys, an Arc Gateway Horticultural Specialist, says this operation is cutting edge.
"Instead of the plants being suspended in water, they're actually hanging in the air and there're spray lines that produce this fine mist environment that's highly oxygenated," he said.
Jeff has expanded his customer base and is open to the general public. He's gone from that bike cart to a delivery van. He has also expanded his mission beyond self employment. Now Jeff is passing on the blessing to others who face the same challenges that he did - finding work.
He says, "I have the opportunity not only to grow stuff, but also to help other people with disabilities learn new job skills."
Missy Rogers is Arc Gateway CEO,
"The hydroponic gardening itself. It could be marketing. It could be sales. It could be delivery, maintenance, cleaning. They're in so many different areas," said Arc Gateway CEO Missy Rogers.
Missy says this is where clients come for hands-on training to lead them to gainful employment.
"They're learning job skills training that they can then take into the community and find their own competitive employment," she said.
And let's not forget, marketing. Jeff's got that down pat too.
"Our products is local. It has no pesticides. You really can't get any fresher. If you want some, come get it," he said.
Angels In Our Midst is sponsored by Nemours Children's Specialty Care.