Mary and Larry Collette were disappointed with the available programming and employment opportunities available to their autistic son Greg when he completed his public school education at age 26. There was very little meaningful work and little to allow Greg to grow socially and interact with others. In the program search for Greg, they learned of a working farm for autism in the Toledo, Ohio area named Bittersweet Farm. Mary and Larry visited the farm several times and after careful thought they, along with other parents and professionals, decided to establish a similar program to serve the Macomb, St. Clair county area. However the new farm would serve all developmental disabilities.
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In November 2004 the first meeting was held. Officers were elected, and the first year was dedicated to establishing the business end of the new venture. Mission statement, by-laws, incorporating, non-profit status, bank accounts, insurance, brochures, and strategies were developed at this time.
In 2006 Special Dreams Farm was allowed to start our first program on a private farm in Ira Township. This was a one season agreement; however in that year our farmers planted, harvested and enjoyed their new job. We also as a board learned much about the abilities, scheduling, and what to expect from our farmers. This proved to be an excellent learning experience.
2007 brought an invitation from Wolcott Farm in Ray Township. Wolcott is a learning farm owned and operated by the Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Authority, also known as the Metro Parks. We were given space for a large garden, and were taught how to care for the smaller animals. The staff at Wolcott was wonderful with their tutoring and patience. We thoroughly enjoyed our time at Wolcott.
October 2008 brought the purchase of our farm on Fred W. Moore Highway in St. Clair Township. This pre-1900 farmhouse with barn and outbuildings on 31 acres of land was a classic Michigan dairy farm. The farm had been unoccupied for about four years, so we had plenty of work to do to make it safe and comfortable for our farmers. With the donation of time and materials from the Detroit area construction industry, along with our hard working board of directors and friends, a transformation in the property took place that first year. During the transformation period we did offer a limited program for our farmers with board members supervising the activities.
Our first full time program director was hired in February 2010. The program director supervises the day to day operation of the farm and is responsible for scheduling and programming. We are now creating a environment at Special Dreams Farms that is being well received by farmers, parents, caretakers, and other special needs agencies. With the proper support and funding, we expect Special Dreams Farm to be a model for the special needs community for years to come.