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Meet our Experts

Kelly Mitchell
Horticulture Therapist

Q: Tell me about your educational background.

A: I got my undergrad in Environmental Engineering from CU Boulder. I have also taken horticultural therapy courses through the Horticultural Therapy Institute.

Q: How did you get involved with the Anchor Center?

A: I realized in college that I did not want to be an engineer. I have a visual impairment myself, and had been working with kids with visual impairments in summer camps and mentorship programs, and had always really enjoyed it. When I graduated college, I started working as a teaching assistant in one of Anchor’s preschool classrooms and quickly fell in love with the early childhood field. I am so grateful for the opportunity to work with and learn from so many incredible kids, as well as recieving training and mentorship from some of the best teachers and therapists around.

Q: What are the high-points and challenges of your job?

A: One of my favorite things to do with our students is just to play outside. Most kids seem to instinctively know how to play outside, but in reality they learn by watching other kids play, especially if they have older siblings. For kids who aren’t able to visually access that information, we teach them directly. It’s pretty incredible to see the transformation over time, many kids are hesitant to participate in unfamiliar activities like sliding down a slide, sitting in a sandbox, or exploring the garden. But as we purposefully introduce the sensory experiences of these activities and as they become familiar to our students, they actively seek them out. We have a preschooler who did not like to touch leaves, and if she ever touched them she would scream and push them away. Pretty recently when we were outside, we buried her in a pile of leaves, and she was so happy! She was throwing leaves in the air, laughing and singing…it was so simply beautiful. This moment was only possible because of all of the work this child and our team had done to help her become familiar and comfortable with the sensory experience of touching leaves, as well as building strong relationships of mutual respect and trust. She knew leaves were safe and she knew she was safe with us, she was able to be free, have fun, and just play!

As far as the challenges of my job, working with the population we work with comes with many challenges. Visual impairments are very rarely an isolated incident, and many of our students are facing several other challenges. Whether it’s seizures, chemotherapy, neurological trauma, or something else, we see kids and families facing incredibly difficult situations every single day and the hardest thing for me is knowing that sometimes there’s nothing I can physically do to help them overcome these challenges. In these moments I can be there to support these families…love them, pray for them, and help them find the beauty and joy in every moment possible.

Q: What is the focus of your job?

A: Whenever anyone asks about what I do, I tell them I’m doing my dream job. As Anchor’s Horticultural Therapist in the infant, toddler and preschool programs, I work as part of Anchor’s interdisciplinary team to help children work toward their developmental goals through gardening activities. I get to work with incredible kids every day, and work with them to cultivate our beautiful garden. Here at Anchor we teach the Expanded Core Curriculum, which was developed specifically to teach individuals with visual impairments how to access and navigate the world, and includes domains such as sensory efficiency, social skills, self-determination and recreation and leisure. We can develop activities for every domain of the expanded core curriculum in the garden, and we can adapt our activities to be physically and developmentally appropriate for all of our students. I love making salsa with our preschoolers. They explore plants the ingredients grow on, harvest the vegetables, bring them inside, help to chop, tear or smash them and mix them together into salsa, and enjoy chips and salsa with their friends as a snack. This activity incorporates every single area of the Expanded Core Curriculum, and both the kids and the teachers have so much fun doing it!

Q: How do you see your position growing in the future?

A: I would love to see Horticultural Therapy grow in the Blind & Visually Impaired field in general, because it is an incredible way to expose children to a wide variety of experiences and build a vast range of skills that will be beneficial in every area of their lives. I would love to have the opportunity to work with other programs and professionals incorporate horticultural therapy and share what I’ve learned about how incredibly beneficial it can be with the population we serve.

Q: What are the misconceptions about visual impairment?

A: So many people have told me some variation of “I can’t imagine how you do what you do every day.” From my experience, many believe that living without vision would be scary and insurmountably challenging. For most people, the closest relatable experience to being blind is just closing their eyes and struggling through everyday activities without the sense they are accustomed to relying on most heavily…that is not my life. I have never had good vision, so my neurological development was different than someone with perfectly functioning eyeballs. I get the majority of my information about what’s going on around me auditorily and tactilely, and my parents and teachers helped me to develop and utilize these senses effectively from a very young age. Because of this, I go about everyday tasks differently, but I can say pretty definitively that there hasn’t been anything throughout school, work, or life that I have been completely unable to accomplish or participate in because of my vision. Of course there are things that are challenging, and of course I’ve had tons of help, but my life so far has been absolutely incredible. The biggest disservice you can do for any individual, especially those with visual impairments, is underestimate what they are capable of, and there is nothing that an individual with a visual impairment cannot accomplish with the opportunities, tools and training to do so. The work we do at Anchor is so vitally important throughout the lives of the children we serve. We show the incredible parents of our students how they can be their child’s best teacher and first advocate, and how they can best nurture their child’s curiosity and independence. We have the opportunity to give these parents hope for the beautiful journey that is ahead of them with their child. We teach our students how to navigate the world, how to utilize the abilities they have, how to build new skills, and help them build their confidence. Every individual who is visually impaired is capable of incredible things, and I am SO excited to see all that our awesome Anchor kids will accomplish!

Q: What is your favorite success story at Anchor?

A: There are honestly so many that it is hard to decide! We see success stories unfolding every day when our students achieve and surpass the goals we work towards with them. I love seeing parents laughing and just having fun with their babies, recognizing their child’s strengths, and supporting other parents who are going through similar situations. I love seeing kids discovering a new communication strategy, making choices, taking steps independently, trying something new independently, and building friendships with their peers. So many incredible moments happen at Anchor and I am honored to get to be a part of them. I had a student a few years ago who was very shy, hesitant and quiet when he started preschool. He cried every day and would rarely engage with teachers or peers. I made a point to get to know him, and watch what he did to figure out what he liked, what he disliked, what he thought was funny. I’ve learned with most kids once you can laugh together…you’re in! I was able to establish a relationship with this child, and as he trusted me more he was willing to step out of his comfort zone and try new things, knowing he would have someone there to support him no matter what. He did so well in preschool, and when it was time for him to transition to kindergarten, we were confident that he was ready. I am so proud of how far he has come, I admire his determination and willingness to try new things, even when they may be challenging.


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