ADRS helps Roberts give back with community garden

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It is no surprise when Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services staffers make a difference in the life of a consumer.

However, through their efforts, Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Brittney Urquhart and Rehab Engineer Tim Driskell have literally helped plant the seeds for success in the lives of many in Sylacauga.

The process began when consumer Bill Roberts, a former firefighter, fire marshal, and beloved member of the community, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998. Through the years, Roberts has battled the illness and continued to contribute to his community in many ways.

One of his most impactful contributions has been his role with the community gardens at elementary schools within the city of Sylacauga and the main location at the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement (SAFE) Center.

The idea for the original garden was launched in 2008 after the economic downturn caused Avondale Mills, a major supplier of jobs in the area, to close. During a job fair at SAFE, Roberts said many of the more than 2,000 people in attendance listed food as a need along with employment. From there, the idea for the garden was born.

Much of the garden’s success stems from Roberts’ knowledge and supervision. However, as his symptoms progressed, Roberts began to face mobility challenges. Thanks to VRS, this is no longer a problem.

VRS helped him secure a motorized chair that allows him to easily maneuver through the rows, and his VR team is in the process of providing even more help. Soon, Urquhart said, Roberts will have a new lift for his truck to make it easier for him to travel to the garden. A golf cart and trailer are also on the list.

“They are providing me with everything I need to get out in the garden,” Roberts said. “They have been so cooperative and worked with us so much. That’s what they are all about.”

The gardens feature a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Roberts said they grow strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, olives, apples, pears, muscadines, corn, peas, beans, squash, tomatoes, okra, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and other fruits and vegetables.

Roberts was first referred to VRS for assistance in acquiring a motorized wheelchair. From there, he said the relationship has blossomed as VRS has gone above and beyond to provide the tools, equipment, and devices he needs.

“They are doers,” he said. “They get the job done. It has been not only a pleasure, it has been an honor to work with them.”

The lift will be especially helpful, Roberts said, because it will allow him to begin working early in the morning before summer temperatures reach their peak. He will no longer have to wait for the bus.

There was a time when Roberts thought he might not be able to help out with the community gardens, but with the support of his family, friends, and VRS, he said he realized he can still have an impact in his community. He said he hopes others are inspired to do the same.

“It does not matter what your limitations are,” he said. “You have got something that can make a difference for somebody else, and you have got to figure out what that is when you need to. It is going to be different from one time to another.”

Roberts’ positive attitude and humility have been inspirational, Urquhart said.  She said she looks forward to their meetings and is excited to continue helping him reach out to others.

“It has been wonderful,” she said. “He has been a pleasure to work with. He never complains, and he is really nice. It is wonderful to work with somebody who gives back.”






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