HUDSON -- From clearing the land to harvesting the final product, ACCESS Transition participants are hard at work at the new work-based learning site at the Camp St. Croix farm and garden.

The program is designed for 18-21-year-olds with disabilities to help them improve life after school into adult-hood.

The community-based program has been in place for four years. It moved out of the Hudson High School to the YMCA in Hudson’s teen center to be more inclusive.

“When other 18-year-olds graduate, they don’t go back to high school,” Transition coordinator Robin Rivard said.

COVID-19 caused some changes to the program. The first community-based partnership they had was with Christian Community Homes. With the ongoing pandemic, the program is not currently able to partner with them.

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So Rivard met with Chris Kost at the YMCA to brainstorm new ideas for the program, and he suggested to Camp St. Croix farm.

Four young men from ACCESS are involved. They are responsible for a variety of work on site, from mulching and weeding to planting and harvesting. Rivard said they also want to deliver the food grown there to local food shelves.

The new site is a great community setting for participants, Rivard said.

“They can be independent in their work, and they’re very proud of what they do,” she said.

She hopes this new facet of the program has opened up a new career path for the participants in landscaping or on a farm.

“They really enjoy it, and they’re very good at it,” Rivard said.

The program will likely continue next year, and Rivard said the farm has asked for summer help as well.

ACCESS has volunteer partnerships with other organizations in the community, including the school district’s IT department and Angel’s Pet World.

The program has also partnered with Knoke’s for a paid employment setting. This started last year and is continuing this year. Program participants work four days a week, helping with seasonal orders right now.

“For many of them, it’s their first paycheck, it’s their first real paid employment setting,” Rivard said.

The students enjoy being busy and working, she said.

“They love the fact that they are being treated like adults - that’s what they are,” Rivard said.

The program is always looking for new partners and new opportunities for volunteer and paid positions. With COVID-19, they do need to be sure the businesses have small numbers and are following safety requirements such as wearing masks.

“We’re always looking for people who want to give us a shot,” Rivard said. “I can really provide good employees with support.”

She wants people to be willing to get rid of the notions they might have and see the abilities of these young adults.

“They’re probably one of the strongest, untapped workforces in Hudson,” she said.