By Laurel Fairworth
Twenty-year-old Eric Salomon is really enjoying his training in commercial baking at Variety, The Children’s Charity Vocational Training program known as Variety Works. It is but one of the innovative new vocational projects geared to teaching kids and young adults a useful trade. In the past Eric would be aging out the system, but now he can continue to learn for additional years into adulthood with the goal of self-sufficiency. Eric stated “I have the opportunity to learn to do something I love that will allow me to be more independent. It’s awesome.”
The revitalization is part of CEO Angus Murray’s vision for the non-profit. Variety has been in the Philadelphia area since 1935 and its Camp and Development Center has been in existence since 1949, one of the first in our area to provide a safe place for kids with disabilities. Originally serving boys who survived polio it now supports children with temporary and permanent disabilities. The main campus sits on 80 donated acres of prime real estate in Worcester, Pennsylvania where Variety hosts a working farm. It holds summer camps, year round activities, extended school year programs, plus its first joint agricultural venture with an area institution. Promoted three years ago, Murray is seeing his ideas bear fruit.
The charity hit a rough patch almost a decade ago but has rebounded both financially and most importantly through innovative programs aimed at creating more options for those with special needs. As we close in on the charity’s 85th anniversary Variety has made an amazing comeback by bringing on board an experienced development and program director, reinvigorating the camp’s facilities, and committing to a comprehen-sive three year strategic plan to transform Variety’s entire campus.
Angus Murray has stated “It is so exciting to see the hard work our staff, families and community partners finally come to fruition to ensure Variety and our kids have a bright future.”
Murray’s game plan included bringing on other experienced professionals and forging relationships with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, The Philadelphia Zoo and Einstein Hospital. A pilot program is underway which will be fully operational by January 2018. In regards to the ZOO, our students grow produce which in turn is sold to the Zoo to feed the animals. In 2016 The Philadelphia Zoo purchased over $20,000 worth of produce from Variety Works. The circle is complete as monies from this effort are reinvested to fund and expand the initiative.
Vegetables and fruits grown at the farm are pesticide free, aquaponic, farm to table and are being cultivated by all the kids including those in wheelchairs. Kale, radishes, tomatoes, onions, squash, banana leaves, corn, herbs and flowers children are a sam-pling of some of the tasty items being sold.
Moving forward, the charity is in discussions with numerous food chains and high end local restaurants throughout the Philadelphia Metropolitan area to provide produce and employment for the teens once they graduate from our program.
CEO Angus Murray states, “One of the parents whose child came through the program told me they had no idea their child has this hidden talent or aptitude. They were amazed and pleased and that is what we want for all our kids”
Murray explains that is exactly what drew him to the non-profit and why he wakes up each day full of creative ways to expand its reach. He vows to continue the moderni-zation of Variety until each child receives the guidance he or she requires.