When UNCG’s Dr. Melissa Floyd-Pickard received a call from Peacehaven Community Farm last summer asking for clinical services for one of its core members, her response was an unequivocal yes.

Located just 20 minutes from campus on 89 acres of picturesque farmland (in the town of Whitsett), Peacehaven provides permanent, supportive housing for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. These “core members” spend their days working the farm, sharing family-style meals and learning new skills.

For Floyd-Pickard, head of UNCG’s Department of Social Work, her commitment to serving individuals with disabilities isn’t just a professional interest – it’s a deeply personal passion.

“I’m trying to create a better world for my son who has autism,” she said.

Floyd-Pickard’s involvement with the farm started by providing a few pro bono sessions to one of its core members. However, she soon realized that there was an opportunity to create a strong partnership between her department and the nonprofit.

“I loved Peacehaven,” she said. “Pretty quickly I thought, ‘we could do so much more.’”

According to Phelps Sprinkle, who leads growth initiatives for Peacehaven, Floyd-Pickard couldn’t have come at a better time.

“We realized that we needed outside clinical support,” Sprinkle said. “Melissa came along at the perfect time. She had the right professional experience and the right heart behind it.”

Floyd-Pickard and fellow social work professor Dr. Daniel Rhodes visit Peacehaven once a month to provide staff training related to conflict resolution, therapeutic communication and goal planning and implementation.

Additionally, Floyd-Pickard works one-on-one with the core members on anxiety management, communication skills and coping with change. Two Peacehaven core members – including UNCG alumnus Jeff Piegari ’13 – volunteer twice a month in the Department of Social Work, providing administrative support while gaining vocational experience.

And it’s not just the Department of Social Work that has been spending time on the farm. The University Speaking Center, led by faculty director Kim Cuny, spends its Friday afternoons with the core members, helping them improve their oral communication skills.

Looking ahead to the fall, social work students will serve as field study interns at the farm, and the department will start exploring potential research opportunities.

“From an academic standpoint, we’re really interested in researching the effectiveness of this community-based model,” Floyd-Pickard said. “We’d like our research to make it easier for others to replicate Peacehaven’s model.”

What’s next for Peacehaven? According to Sprinkle, the nonprofit plans to build additional housing and a community center and hopes to start a vocational farming program.

“We are striving to be innovative, and we are partnering with people like Melissa and her team who share the same vision.”

 

Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Relations
Photography by Martin W. Kane, University Relations