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Photo courtesy of Roses for Autism

(Photo courtesy of Roses for Autism )

Community Rallies to Support Roses for Autism in Guilford

Published June 30, 2017 • Last Updated 01:11 p.m., June 30, 2017

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After two acts of vandalism at Roses for Autism left employees upset and community members enraged, residents have now turned their anger and disgust into a positive force. Only two weeks after the last act of vandalism, Roses for Autism has received a flood of donations, both floral and financial, totaling more than $22,900.

The first act of vandalism took place on June 2. Employees of Roses for Autism, the Guilford-based non-profit that fosters employment opportunities for people with autism, arrived at work to find recently purchased plants and seed had been stolen and a broken trellis at the site of a planned sensory garden. The garden, which would have been one of the first of its kind on the shoreline, was supposed to be formally opened to the public on Saturday, June 24.

Despite initial support from the community and the Guilford Police to repair the garden and still try to make the June 24 opening day, vandals struck again on June 12, this time digging up different plants and flowers and stealing statues and lawn ornaments in the garden.

The new sensory garden has been a work in progress since 2015, with employees and volunteers raising $12,000 for supplies and volunteers putting in over 1,000 hours to build the garden. A sensory garden is a garden designed to have different beds that invoke different senses, which can be both therapeutic and educational.

After the two crimes, Roses for Autism Managing Director Michelle Ouimette said the opening was formally postponed and the organization put out the call for donations to repair the garden via a GoFundMe page with the hope of raising $10,000 for repairs.

As word of the vandalism quickly spread, Ouimette said she was taken back by the overwhelming show of support from the community.

“Myself and the entire team at Roses For Autism, we were shocked and overwhelmed,” she said. “We know that we have been part of the community and we are happy to be but I guess we didn’t realize how many people supported us as well so we are just really overwhelmed and moved by all of the community support… people really responded to the coverage and then they shared the story with their friends.”

Within two weeks the GoFundMe page donations totaled more than $12,600 with dollars rolling in from longtime supporters and other residents both in Guilford and across the state. Host of Garden Talk on WTIC-AM and employee of Prides Corner Farms in Lebanon CT Len Giddix expressed his disgust at the acts of vandalism and encouraged Prides Corner to donate, which they did – donating 84 rose bushes.

“The garden has a variety of plants so that donation is going to allow us to — it was a long-term goal but we just were not able to do it at this point – encircle the sensory garden with rose bushes because we are Roses for Autism so as part of the rebuild we are actually going to be able to do that right away which is wonderful,” said Ouimette.

Having already achieved the fundraising goal, Ouimette said she is now trying to set up a schedule so that all who offered to volunteer can participate in the reconstruction of the garden. Before repairs begin however, Ouimette said new security measures are being put in place.

“We have already identified where the security cameras are going to go,” she said. “We are looking at solar cameras that will also record onto a chip. We are also going to put a gate at the driveway after hours so people can’t drive down the driveway. One of the most important things with the cameras is to make sure they are sort of hidden in plain view because we don’t want people to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in any way – particularly the folks that we serve – but we do need to have these security measures in place.”

Guilford Police Chief Jeff Hutchinson said no suspects have been identified yet but the investigation is ongoing. For now, a new opening date for the sensory garden has been tentatively set for Sept 16, 2017.

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