Tag Archives: clearwater

A Visit to the Gateway Organic Farm

19 Jun

On Monday, we started our very first Swanky Swine Summer School (we admit, the alliteration is getting a bit out of control).  Our goal for this program is to offer our young adults the opportunity to learn and practice valuable life and vocational skills.  Every day we will spend some time in the classroom but a good portion of our time will include hands on activities.  There will be an ongoing emphasis on character development, healthy living and money management.  We also plan to grocery shop and cook a lot!

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Today, we took our first field trip to the Gateway Organic Farm in Clearwater.   There are so many important lessons to be learned in a garden.   Not only did visiting the farm teach our kids about nutrition and agriculture but it also exposed them to a possible vocation. The Gateway farm is the only organic farm in the county and it is quite impressive.  This past year, they won the Florida Innovative Farmer Award, which is impressive since they were competing with much larger farms all over the state.  While the farm itself is only about 3 acres, it was amazing how much they were doing on the land.   We took tons of pictures!

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When we first arrived, Pamela (the farmer’s wife) and her family met us at the Gate and immediately engaged the students.  We toured their children’s garden  that was filled with vegetable and herb plants in plastic buckets that had been planted by children at the local elementary school.

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Hank (the farmer) showed all of the children an empty bee hive and explained how they harvest honey.  The entire fence was lined with large pots overflowing with fresh herbs including Rosemary, Thyme, Cuban Oregano, Mint and Basil.  The students loved smelling everything. The basil reminded everyone of pizza and someone said the sage “smelled like Thanksgiving.”

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We picked kale and Pamela taught us the importance of rotating crops.   However, everyone’s favorite part seemed to be the chickens.  We even left the farm with fresh eggs that we can cook together tomorrow!

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It was such a great day!  We look forward to visiting the farm again in the fall when there are more vegetables to see. We also plan to volunteer on a planting or weeding day. Many of the students expressed an interest in farming. We even talked to Pamela about joining the farm’s CSA so that we can have fresh, local, organic produce to cook with throughout the year.  If you’re from the area and haven’t heard of the Gateway Farm I encourage you to check them out (www.gatewayorganicfarm.com).  The family is wonderful and they are doing great work!

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End of our First Year

26 May

We are nearing the end of our first school year.  We have one more week left of school and one more shift at the Swanky Swine before we take a break for the summer.   It’s been a great year.  It’s hard to believe that it’s only been a few months since we told the students that we would be starting a school store. I don’t think any of us knew what a big hit the concept would be or how much we would all learn along the way.

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One of the biggest unexpected outcomes was the opportunity for our students who were not in the program to learn to shop for themselves.  When we first opened, it was almost humorous to watch people who have never worked at a store and people who had never independently shopped at a store try to make a transaction.  Initially the two groups would stare at each other awkwardly.  Sometimes a customer would take what they wanted from the cart, throw their money on the counter or even directly in the cash box and walk away.  Other customers would give the cashiers money first and then pick out what they wanted.

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Eventually, our employees learned to welcome people to the store and initiate conversation.  The other students learned to wait in line, pick out everything they wanted, wait to be rung up, hand over their cash and wait for change.  By the end of the year, a normal shift at the store went from a grueling and confusing hour and a half to an efficient forty five minutes.  Lately, every time we end a shift the staff says “Was that it? It’s already over?!”

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The students have learned a lot this year.  Several students who have struggled with money math and counting coins for years are finally starting to have their “aha” moments.  Moving from lectures and worksheets to actual hands on application has made all the difference in the world.  Students who groaned every time they had to go to math class, now beg to work at the store and argue over who gets to be cashier.

They have all grown in confidence and independence.  At the beginning of the year, no one could put the store together without a lot of direction and support. This past week, two of our employees set up the entire display independently   They didn’t forget a thing. We were really proud of them.  Perhaps, more importantly, they were proud of themselves.

Most of our students are returning next year and we are excited to see what’s to come.    We’re thankful for every person who has come alongside us on this journey.  We have a lot of exciting things in the works that we can’t wait to unveil.

What’s in a name?

12 May

The Swanky Swine began, like everything begins, as an idea.  It started in a conversation that went something like, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could start a program that would give our kids the skills they needed to get jobs?”

Then, “Wouldn’t it be really cool if we could start a business so our kids could have jobs in an environment that they are already flourishing in?”

Then, “What if our mascot was a pig with a mustache?”  Admittedly, that part was a harder sell.

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The question we get asked the most when we’re meeting parents, doing newspaper interviews or wearing our t-shirts is, “Where did you get that name?”  The truth is, it all started with a piggy bank.

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Before we opened our store, we identified one of our student’s biggest deficiencies was money management.  Counting money is a critical functional skill for all students.  It’s a skill that many of us take for granted but imagine how difficult life would be without it.  Understanding currency is the first step towards self sufficiency and the ability to live independently in the community.  It gives our students access to the things they need to purchase and the freedom to make these purchasing decisions on their own.

It’s not just counting change, its a necessary, foundational skill.  Counting small change is the literally the beginning of big change (get it?!).

So we started with pennies, nickels  dimes and quarters.  We presented it a lot of different ways, we used touch math, flash cards, worksheets, ipad apps and anything else we could get our hands on.  In the midst of these lessons we purchased each student a little pink piggy bank from Target.  When students answered questions correctly, or completed an assignment they would get plastic coins that they would collect in their banks.  Once every couple of weeks, the students would open their banks, count their coins and could purchase things from a class store.

The students LOVED their banks much more than we anticipated.  We drew mustaches on the boy’s banks so they seemed a bit more masculine.  The students named them and displayed them proudly on their desks.

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So when it came time to start our store we knew that homage must be paid to the pigs who started it all.

From the beginning,  we wanted our store to be more than just a typical school store. We wanted the name to reflect that we were setting a different standard.  After throwing out “the Pretentious Pig” and then then “Swaggering Sow” we landed on the “Swanky Swine.”

Our mascot has a mustache and a monocle that of course are indicative of his style and class.  However, most importantly the Swanky Swine is a pink piggy bank that represents that first small step towards big change in our students lives.  He’s also inspired a growing collection of banks that are displayed in our school’s lobby,

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AND an stylish t-shirt that is worn by our awesome supporters all over the country.

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Every time someone asks “Why does that pig have a mustache?” it’s another chance to tell the story of a small school store that’s attempting to make big change.  We believe the old adage,  “From small beginnings come great  things” and we have only just begun.

Our First Golf Tournament (and our public debut)!

5 May

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Yesterday, we finally had our public debut at the first annual Woodlawn Community Academy charity golf tournament. The event was held at the Belleview Biltmore Golf Club in Belleair and was coordinated by the WCA parent board.  Pat Shriver who is a Woodlawn parent and a professional golf instructor at the Shriver Golf Academy, coordinated a lot of the event details and did an incredible job.  The funds that were raised are all going towards our transition program and the Swanky Swine. Thank you so much to everyone who worked tirelessly to make this day a success!DSC_0075

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Our students were thrilled to participate in the event by putting together a swanky lemonade stand on hole 14.  This was a great opportunity for us to showcase our store and allowed the golfers to interact with the students they were helping.

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At the beginning of the day, the students were a bit nervous; however, they quickly became more confident as they interacted with the golfers. Everyone was so nice and so impressed with their customer service skills.   We may have received more tips than actual sales!!

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In addition to water balls, our menu for the day included several types of fresh fruit lemonade including strawberry lime, watermelon and blueberry. We also had Arnold Palmers of course!

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We received a lot of compliments on the drinks but the most popular item by far were our baked goods.  On the Thursday and Friday before the tournament our students baked their hearts out.

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We had bacon brownies and our signature pink pig cookies.  After trying our cookies, one golfer even returned to the hole to buy three more bags! By the end of the day we didn’t have to encourage anyone to stop.  One of the last carts told us, “We’ve been hearing about these cookies all day and have been looking forward to trying them!”  The kids were so proud that everyone loved something they had made.

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Other than the fact that it was a bit windy, the weather was perfect and it was a wonderful day.We would have a group of 4 golfers come through every 10 or 15 minutes.  The employees are used to serving 100 people in 30-40 minutes so they enjoyed the slower pace of the tournament.  We had plenty of time to enjoy the weather and take some fun pictures!

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Don’t worry, we didn’t actually let Dimitri drive 🙂 He did get a chance to hit a ball in the longest drive contest though thanks to a generous golfer who let him use his club.

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There were even some of our regular customers from the school at the tournament. They were happy to see their favorite store along the course.

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It was such a great day and a wonderful chance for the students to show off everything they have learned this year.  We hope this is the first of many opportunities for our store. We are thankful for everyone who has come alongside of us and bought into our vision.  We can’t wait to see what is in store for the future.

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Our First TV Appearance

9 Mar

This was one of our most exciting weeks yet! On Tuesday afternoon we received an email from Jennifer Leigh from WFLA (our local NBC station) who said she wanted to come out and film our store.  The employees knew that this was a possibility but they were really surprised to hear that they were coming so quickly.  We spent Wednesday morning setting up the store and practicing answering questions about their jobs. They were so excited but also really nervous.  The employees learned the best way to combat nerves is to be well prepared.

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We had been told that they were coming “as long as there was no breaking news.” So when the car pulled up at the school, the students were thrilled. They all cheered (some panicked for a moment but they pulled it together) and then got to work.

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The camera man started filming the shift immediately. We were really busy! The employees did a great job of continuing the shift and taking care of all the customers even though they were nervous to be on camera.  Even Jennifer Leigh commented on what a great job they did “ignoring the camera” while they worked. They made all of us really proud!

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After the rush, Jennifer interviewed 2 of our employees about their jobs and what they have learned so far.  Dimitri and Allison did such an awesome job answering questions about the Swanky Swine “which stands for the fancy pig”.  They told Jennifer what we sold at the store, the most popular items, and how we decide what to sell.  They also talked about what they want to do after they graduate from school and how much confidence they have gained from this job.  It was inspiring to see how far they have come in such a short time.

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We were so happy with the story that WFLA aired on Thursday night.  The fact that the news came out really boosted the employees confidence and made them even more proud of their jobs.  They are starting to believe in their abilities and this is making all of the difference.  The outpouring of support has been amazing and they all feel like stars.  Jennifer Leigh even posted the kids picture on her Facebook site.

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The Swanky Swine story has been shared over and over and is currently one of the most popular videos on WFLA’s site.  We hope that this publicity helps us to garner the support we need to expand. We also hope that others will be inspired to focus on people’s abilities instead of their disabilities.

On Friday we broke another sales record at the store. All of the students loved that Woodlawn Community had received such great publicity.

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We even offered a new item, since our employees are all tv stars now

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All in all it was a great week. We are excited, encouraged and can’t wait to see what’s next!

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In case haven’t had a chance to watch the video yet, here’s the link:

Swanky Swine store something special in Clearwater