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Big dreams for Downs adults



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Phil Townsend with his mom Laura. Photo by Trevor Keiser. (click for larger version)
August 31, 2011 - When Laura Townsend gave birth to her son Phil Townsend, many people shook their head because they felt bad Phil was born with Down syndrome. But Laura would tell them not to because she "got lucky enough to have that guy."

"This kid is such a breath of fresh air. Shake your head over my daughter, not my son," she said. "My daughter is a handful, where Phil just hangs out and loves life and it makes you love life."

Phil loves Kid Rock and wearing fedora style hats.

"He's a totally awesome guy," Laura said. "You spend a few minutes with him and you'll see that."

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Friend of the family Mary Hartman agreed.

"Phil Townsend is a very uplifting individual. He brings out the best in everyone. If you get to know him, he makes me want to speak more clearly, think more clearly," she said. "He makes me want to do good."

Now that Phil has graduated Clarkston High School, Laura wants to start a culinary training facility, Grace's Garden for "extraordinary" young adults like Phil where they grow purely organic fruits, vegetables, and grains. They can bake, can, and create gift baskets.

"We hope to provide local restaurants with the finest produce available and eventually open Grace's Garden Café," Laura said.

A fieldstone home off Davisburg Road in Springfield Township would be a perfect location for the training facility and café, and she has envisioned it as a training facility for the past 10 years, she said.

She had the support of former Springfield Township Supervisor Mike Trout for use of the property, and was getting petitions signed to show they had community support.

"It just looks good when you have signatures when you go down there, to see you have all these people on board and willing to help out for the good of the cause," said Hartman.

Laura, currently a job coach for adults with developmental disabilities, said she wants to do more.

"I want to continue to teach them because they still have minds. People look at people in society and they look at them differently," she said. "I've been with them since they were in Kindergarten and I know what they're capable of, and I think they're capable of a whole lot. I think the community can see that too and they'll see what we have to offer."

Graces Garden would give them "meaningful employment," she said.

"When they go for employment, an employer doesn't allow that much training time because they don't really know what they're getting themselves into," Laura said.

Hartman agreed.

"They have so much to give back to the community themselves," she said. "They don't need to bag groceries at Krogers, they don't need to push brooms."

As far as the garden goes, Hartman provides an upward worm migrating composting system.

"These worms eat all of my junk mail and they produce the most nitrogen-rich black soil. This is the base for our gardening beds," she said. "We want to do it from old school, Amish style, if you will."

Both Hartman and Laura believe healthier foods would help young adults with some issues they have.

"The things they put in our food, the pesticides, insecticides, not only does it affect our mind and our body, you are what you eat," Hartman said. "Cancers, ADHD, Autism, they've all been linked to the things that are in our food and not only that, it ends up in our drinking water too."

Hartman said they're not looking to be a charity organization, but a business.

"We're not looking for handouts," she said. "We're looking for support from our community because we know this community is great and people will be willing to step up."

Laura agreed.

"I think Clarkston needs this," she said. "I do a lot of stuff with SCAMP. I don't see why they wouldn't welcome this just the same. I think it would be a great thing."

Those interested in volunteering or helping, e-mail Laura Townsend at gracesgarden@comcast.net

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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