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Passover flowers arranged with love by Summit students

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It was a tall order: prepare 100 floral arrangements and deliver them in time for Passover.

That would be a challenge even for a professional florist, but the assignment was fulfilled by about 20 students with special needs at Summit School’s TECC campus, where they are enrolled in a work-training program.

Founded in 1963, Summit School is a private institution recognized by the Education Ministry that has over 600 students with intellectual, emotional or physical challenges in preschool through to young adults.

Floral arranging was introduced as a craft at TECC, which is located in downtown Montreal, by Vicki Surplice, a professional florist who arrived here from England a couple of years ago.

It became so popular that working with flowers was incorporated into the school’s vocational training program, with classes given every day. By last September, the course had developed into an initiative called TECC Flora.

Under Surplice’s guidance, the students, aged 16 to 21, began taking orders from the public.

This is not fundraising; it’s a skill development program, with proceeds from sales going back into TECC Flora, which buys its supplies through three wholesalers, just as a commercial florist would, Surplice explained.

Through word of mouth, many of the first clients came from the Jewish community, especially last Rosh Hashanah.

Over the intervening months, TECC Flora has become an in-house business with the intention of operating year-round. It now has its own website, through which orders can be placed.

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Passover proved to be a bonanza for TECC Flora. The deadline for those orders was April 10, with a promise of delivery between April 17 and 19. To make things more efficient, several synagogues offered to be drop-off points, where clients, which included both individuals and institutions, could pick up their bouquets and plants.

Nineteen-year-old Savannah, who asked that we only use her first name, said she immediately fell in love with the class. “I feel lucky to have this opportunity to get a set of skills. Vicki is an incredible teacher and we are learning from each other, as well,” she said.

Shane, also 19, calls the program “fantastic.” He was a bit surprised to realize how much he enjoys taking care of, and getting creative with, flowers. He dreams of someday starting a business of his own.

Maria, 20, likes putting together bouquets and is starting to learn how the flower supply changes with the seasons. She loves the spring bulbs, but classic roses remain her favourite.

“Every day is different, you never know what to expect,” she said.

Daniel, 18, who has been at TECC for only a couple of months, is attracted to the technological side of the enterprise and has been helping set up its accounting system, he said.

Savannah added that, “Flowers make us calm. We listen to music while we work and have fun just being together as friends.

One of the flower arrangements prepared by TECC Flora. (Janice Arnold photo)

The Adath is one of the synagogues that serves as a pick-up point. Its senior rabbi, Michael Whitman, is an admirer of TECC Flora and its enthusiastic students.

“We were delighted to partner with Summit School,” he said. “Not only will we enjoy these flowers for their beauty and aroma, but we appreciate them even more for the beauty and strength of each of these young people who are working hard to improve their lives and the lives of those around them.”

Four choices were offered specifically for Passover: cut flowers in a vase, a bouquet of varying shades of pink, a spring bulb selection in a bowl and various single succulents in a tubular glass container, ranging in price from $18 to $50.

Each order comes with a tag explaining that TECC Flora provides an opportunity for Summit students to gain work experience. They also develop fine motor and social skills and learn to solve problems in a supportive environment through a creative and hands-on experience.

The students are involved in the entire process, from accompanying Surplice to the flower market to make selections and become familiar with pricing and how much to buy at a time, to cutting and arranging, to marketing and customer service.

These are all valuable skills no matter what job path the students eventually take, said Surplice.

TECC Flora takes orders for any holiday or occasion and can customize them. It is becoming a popular supplier for weddings and bar mitzvahs, and has had other big orders, such as VIA Rail asking for 200 arrangements for Valentine’s Day.

Summit director-general Herman Erdogmus is pleased with how TECC Flora has taken off. “It’s a beautiful program,” he said, “not only beautiful in the sense that the arrangements are incredible, but that we’re helping to create independent young adults.”

Director of development Stu Guttman agrees: “With every order from the community, it’s an opportunity for these students to ply their trade and gain valuable experience.”