Goodwill Fort Worth STARS program participants Jason Lujan and Jacinto Sanchez learn how to transfer seedlings into larger pots for root-quality development at Goodwill's GreenWorks Learning Center. Courtesy of Goodwill Fort Worth.

Oct. 6, 2020

Life has not been easy for Pedro Cordero, a Fort Worth resident born with significant mental and physical challenges. 

But Cordero is now thriving with help from GreenWorks, Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth’s horticulture program designed for adult clients like Cordero.

The GreenWorks Learning Center, a greenhouse built for the program, is located at the Tarrant County Resource Connection in south Fort Worth, 

“Pedro was quiet and mostly nonverbal until he started participating at GreenWorks,” said Helen Lopez, program manager of Goodwill’s Skills Training Achieves Results (STARS) program, which fosters independence in disadvantaged participants. “We watched him open up and start communicating with his peers and staff.” 

Watch a video about GreenWorks participant Pedro Cordero.

Meet the STARS. - Pedro Cordero

Cordero was among as many as nine STARS participants who attended classes each Wednesday at the greenhouse in 2019, representing about 910 hours of instruction. 

Goodwill cut the ribbon for GreenWorks Learning Center in May 2017, with the Resource Connection donating the space and the Hoblitzelle Foundation providing a $45,000 grant for the greenhouse’s construction. Operating within the STARS program, GreenWorks helps to promote daily living scenarios that offer real-life skills, enabling participants to achieve greater independence. 

Goodwill, which earns revenue from the sale of donated goods, bills itself as the world’s largest employer of people with disabilities.

“When we began discussing the greenhouse, we started talking about the different populations that Goodwill Fort Worth serves and how they could play a part in operating the facility,” said Goodwill Fort Worth President and CEO David Cox, who along with former Resource Connection Director Judi Ketchum hatched the GreenWorks idea. “Initially we were going to use it purely as a job training opportunity, but after discussions with our team we realized that our STARS participants, adults with significant or multiple disabilities, could benefit greatly from horticulture therapy and lessons on growing plants.”

The initial concept included opening a restaurant that would use the greenhouse’s herbs and vegetables and provide Goodwill clients with valuable job skills. But as Cox noted, plans change and concepts evolve. 

“At this point the restaurant idea remains a dream,” he said. “Prior to moving forward with that portion of the project, we plan to add a second greenhouse and implement the job-training opportunities for other Goodwill clients.”

Goodwill Fort Worth's GreenWorks programThe Tarrant County Master Gardener Association received the 2nd Place International Master Gardener 2019 David Gibby Search for Excellence Award – Special Needs Audiences,for its work with STARS clients at Goodwill GreenWorks. Courtesy of Goodwill Fort Worth.

For now, STARS participants have grown enough tomatoes to sell to Resource Connection employees and to local Master Gardeners, who teach classes on-site and have played a key role in GreenWorks’ development. The clients also have grown most of the plants for Pizza Ranch, a Tarrant County and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension initiative that teaches 4th-grade students how pizza gets from farm to table. 

The greenhouse also has produced Indian mustard, kale, broccoli and cabbage grown from seed and delivered to 4th-graders at the Alice Carlson Applied Learning Center. 

“Students then planted the young vegetable plants with the assistance of the Tarrant County Master Gardener Association in the school’s Outdoor Learning education garden and cared for the plants during recess,” Cox said. “Once [the plants were] fully grown, the students donated the vegetables to the food pantry at University Baptist Church.” 

The STARS group also is growing thyme, sage, wheat and corn, as well as crinum lilies at the greenhouse, with help from the Master Gardeners. 

Although STARS participants like Pedro Cordero are the only population from Goodwill Fort Worth presently taking part in GreenWorks, Cox said they have plans to expand the curriculum.

“It is our hope to eventually expand the greenhouse further to offer job training opportunities for nursery operations and other similar career fields,” Cox said.

Texas A&M AgriLife Extension helps facilitate the day-to-day running of the greenhouse, with the Tarrant County Master Gardeners pitching in to help teach classes to clients. The Tarrant Master Gardeners received the second place International Master Gardener 2019 David Gibby Search for Excellence Award – Special Needs Audiences, for their work with the S.T.A.R.S. participants. 

In addition to providing the land and helping with the greenhouse’s construction, the Resource Connection of Tarrant County maintains the physical greenhouse building.

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