Most people don’t know that I am professional gardener.  It’s true.

Every day, I tend to the beautiful flowers in my garden, taking great care to provide each one with the special attention and nutrients required for continued growth.

But I don’t care for these flowers alone.  We are a community of passionate professionals and volunteers who are dedicated to the task of caring for these special flowers, flora so spectacular that they are often overwhelming, and are usually overlooked for more commonplace blooms.

As you may have guessed, I am not referring to actual foliage.  Rather, I have dedicated my life to caring for the breathtaking blossoms of the disabled community.

Through our work at ALEH facilities across the country, our community of “gardeners” helps severely disabled children reach their greatest potentials.  Because these “flowers” have developed differently than their peers, their milestones and accomplishments are very different in nature.  Often the blink of an eye is cause for celebration.  Lifting a spoon may be the result of months or years of therapy and instruction.

But the trained gardener knows an important secret.  Though the relative growth of special needs individuals may at first seem stunted, their innate beauty is beyond compare.

“Regularly-abled” individuals, like ordinary vegetation, bloom and flower on a specific schedule and at set times.  Their moments of splendor are few and fleeting.  The opposite is true for their special needs counterparts, who are always in full bloom, constant visions of life and vitality.

While it is true that the disabled children at our ALEH facilities can’t create or build on their own, they consistently inspire growth as well as life and attitude changes in everyone they encounter.

And though it is clear that the special needs children in our care don’t have the capacity for complex thought or action, their purity and joyful spirits restore my faith in humankind on a daily basis.

Our garden is an enchanting and striking patch of untainted humanity where flowers of every kind flourish together.  And that’s the secret: togetherness, bridging the gap.  When the disabled are forced to hide in the shadows, they are robbed of the opportunity to grow in the ways in which they are able, and we, their regularly-abled counterparts, are deprived of the physical, emotional and spiritual benefits of connecting with them.  But when we tear down the barriers and nourish our spirits by interacting with each other, our world becomes a bright and beautiful place.

This Tu B’Shvat, I reflect on how truly fortunate I am to be able to tend to this special garden, and I encourage you, dear reader, to (perhaps) step outside of your comfort zone and join our community of gardeners.  Roll up your sleeves and grab a garden trowel.  Your life will never be the same.