Cynthia Strasmann introduced Kristina Mermelstein, level four Paraeducator and registered Behaviorist in Special Education at Bridges Community Day High School (Bridges).
Kristina is a mother of an autistic son for whom, and others like him, she strives to take the “dis” out of “disability” to enable them to become employable, functioning citizens.
Kristina has actively served on many philanthropic boards including The Special Children’s League, Golden Heart Ranch, National Charity League, The Friendship Foundation, and the PTA Executive Council. Currently, she is involved with The Friendship Circle and Surfer’s Healing.
Kristina’s presentation concerned the Capistrano Restorative Gardens & Learning Center (CRGLC), beginning with its history. In 1977, a Regional Occupational Program (ROP), a joint venture of Capistrano and Laguna Beach school districts, identified a dirt area on Bridges’ campus for ROP students to plant, care for, and sell the fruits of their labor.
Alfonso Guttierez, a young graduate, was the first to plant a tree which remains there today. The garden provided students career training, and the sales proceeds funded garden equipment.
In 2017, Capistrano Unified’s Continued Learning Adult Special Services, Adult Transition, and Bridges programs established CRGLC. Its mission is to provide a place of education, health, community, and restoration to special needs students, while giving back by offering produce yields to local food banks. Steve Rose, a San Juan Capistrano (SJC) Rotarian, together with Marianne Taylor of Goin’ Native, developed a conceptual plan for CRGLC. Because Capistrano Unified does not provide funding, CRGLC’s garden team has been fundraising to finance it. Donations have been received from SJC Rotary, Capistrano Bay Soroptimist, Elks Mission Viejo, and others. However, CRGLC isa work in progress and more funds are needed.
Kristina shared before and after photos of the project area, located across from Mission SJC. She also distributed a picture of the conceptual plan for the fully implemented project.
Kristina described the students CRGLC serves. They are teenaged, high school graduates with multiple disabilities (e.g., Downs Syndrome, Autism, etc.), who, by law, are entitled to education until age 22. Enrollment is 125 students in four classes. Each class has its own planting bed and de- cides what to plant and how to use the har- vest. Typically, they plant and donate pro- duce to the food bank at Mission SJC.
Ken announced he was privileged to receive a $1,400 donation request from CRGLC. Kristina replied that the donation would
Kristina Mermelstein & Mike Gertner fund the materials to provide the foundation of the beds (lumber and planting mix). If Exchange Club continues to donate, Kristina will update us on CRGLC’s progress and how it is serving participating students.