Blanchard is honored by state’s first lady for her work helping adults with disabilities gain life skills Trenton For Wendie Blanchard of Stillwater, helping her nephew with Down Syndrome find more meaningful employment has blossomed into a highly effective and nationally recognized training program for the developmentally disabled and ex-offenders in four New Jersey counties. Through Arthur and Friends, approximately 200 participants age 18 and older have been instructed in the art of hydroponic farming since 2008, growing fresh produce for local farm markets and area restaurants while learning to become self-reliant and productive community members. On Monday, June 20, First Lady Mary Pat Christie recognized this innovative initiative by naming Wendie Blanchard, its founder, a New Jersey Hero during a visit to the State Fairgrounds site in Augusta. “Wendie’s incredible commitment to this program has spurred the remarkable growth and expansion of Arthur and Friends,” said Christie. “Whether challenged by disability or stereotype, these adults are mastering valuable life and work skills to become self-sufficient members of our larger New Jersey community. I applaud Wendie for nurturing these program participants to fulfill their dreams of self worth and independence. I am proud to name her a New Jersey Hero.” What they do Arthur and Friends’ Greenhouse Project uses the field of agribusiness to develop transferable skills and employment training for program participants who then grow and sell the organic produce to local wholesale, retail and online consumers. In addition, participants learn other entrepreneurial skills such as invoicing, ordering, shipping and interaction with customers. The hydroponically grown produce that is cultivated in greenhouses in Sussex, Essex, Warren and Morris counties is purchased by the public, stores and restaurants, including Perona Farms in Andover, New Jersey and Gramercy Tavern in New York City. Arthur and Friends is working to expand to all 21 counties with new locations being planned in Orange, Bridgeton, Newark and Somerset. Wendie Blanchard noted, “When people ask about what we do here at Arthur and Friends, I am reminded of the words of Joshua Handler, one of our workers with Cerebral Palsy ’We have moved beyond teaching a man to fish, we are stocking the pond!’ And indeed in this economy, we need to stock the pond and in some cases build the pond to provide new jobs in an economically, environmentally and socially responsible way. “Our success has been built with the generosity, collaboration and support of many to whom we are ever so grateful. What began as a dream became a vision, a pilot, then a model, a regional New Jersey program and now a national movement.” Arthur and Friends is a 501(c) 3 non-profit that is funded in part by Kessler Foundation. For more information about the program at www.arthurandfriends.org. New Jersey Heroes is an initiative of First Lady Mary Pat Christie that showcases the positive ways people and organizations are affecting New Jersey in their own unique ways. To nominate a hero, go to the bottom of the page at www.nj.gov/governor/firstlady and click the NJ Heroes tab.