Volunteer Spotlight: The Guild for Human Services

image of volunteers from the Guild planting up raised beds, and of the raised beds with crops growing in them

“Last time we were at the farm, it was really cool,” said Shawn Massak. “We set up two of the accessible gardening beds, which was great because it really connects into what some of our population experiences.” 

Shawn works as the employment services manager for The Guild for Human Services, helping to provide job training and workplace education to students there. “Primarily we work with people with intellectual disabilities,” said Shawn. “But often physical disabilities play a factor for them as well—so being part of creating more accessible space and programming was awesome.”

In July, thanks to funding from Emerson Hospital, the farm installed a new set of raised beds that can be accessed by volunteers who use wheelchairs or for whom getting down onto the ground can be difficult. We were thrilled when Shawn and a group of students from The Guild teamed up with Farmer Chrissie to transplant seedlings into them for the first time. “Chrissie has been really excellent at working with our students,” said Shawn. “She said, ‘We grow all these crops at Gaining Ground and any of these plants could be put in these raised beds. What do you think we should plant?’ Encouraging different options and this element of choice was really engaging for the students.”

Located in Concord, just down Virginia Road from the farm, The Guild’s mission is to educate and empower people with intellectual disabilities so that they can lead high-quality lives and participate meaningfully in society. They strive to encourage independence and community inclusion for the students and adults they work with.

Shawn works with The Guild’s programming for clients who are under the age of 22, which includes around 90 individuals, most of whom are residential students living in community homes surrounding the Concord area. “We serve a really diverse population of folks with disabilities,” said Shawn. “Primarily the students we serve are on the autism spectrum, but we have a lot of students who have an intellectual disability as well. One of the unifying factors is that most of the folks we work with need a level of specialized care that is something that The Guild can provide—but that a lot of inclusive public schools cannot.” 

After The Guild relocated from Waltham to Concord five years ago, they reached out to different local farms hoping to find agricultural opportunities that students could take part in. “Gaining Ground was one of the more receptive groups,” said Shawn. “There was already educational programming in place geared toward working with volunteers with disabilities, which allowed us to volunteer in whatever capacity our students were able to.” 

Groups from The Guild volunteer on a variety of tasks and in a range of shift lengths—longer ones for students who love working outside as well as shorter ones that focus on introducing students to agricultural programming and to producing food. “It has been nice that there has been scaling in terms of difficulty,” said Shawn. “I have a bunch of students who want to get dirty. I remember at one point a couple years ago we helped harvest potatoes. So, you know, you’re digging them out of the ground, and it’s about as dirty as it gets. And on the other end of things, we have also had a couple times where we have helped create dry flowers and flower bouquets. It’s really nice to have that range of activities.” 

Volunteers from The Guild have contributed many hours of work in the fields with our farmers, supporting not only our efforts to grow food for hunger relief, but our vision for the farm to be an environment of discovery, belonging, and meaning. 

“Gaining Ground is a part of how our students access the larger community, which is important,” said Shawn. “It provides an opportunity for them to work on things on a smaller level and then see the ways that all of the volunteers—including our students—help to create something much bigger.”