BRUNSWICK — As the parent of a neurodiverse child, Scott Lemieux is familiar with that “rainy day feeling” for both kids and parents — needing support, stimulation and, sometimes, just a break. 

That feeling, coupled with a new sense of urgency as the pandemic has limited families’ opportunities to get out of the house, spurred Lemieux to launch the Rainy Day Farm Mentoring Center. 

The fledgling program is designed to help neurodiverse teens (especially those with anxiety, autism spectrum disorder and attention deficit disorders) and their families explore new interests, learn life skills and bond with mentors. The program focuses on gardening, pet care, art and dance. 

Andrew Johnson, 16, works on windows for the cold frame built at Rainy Day Farm Mentoring Center to help extend the Brussels sprouts growing season. Behind him, volunteers start work on the greenhouse. Courtesy of Scott Lemieux

There are plenty of other successful enrichment programs for teens in the community, Lemieux noted, but said many are geared toward neurotypical or non-special needs kids. 

“These kids need to have a safe environment where they can interact with their peers, with adults and can practice the task of special skills,” he said. “They need more one on one attention while they’re trying to learn skills that just come so hard to them.” 

Autism, attention deficit disorder, anxiety and other mental health, neurological or developmental disorders can create challenges with social interactions, communication, attention, time management and other behaviors. 

From his own experience working with kids with high-functioning autism, also called Asperger syndrome, Lemieux knows that “if they’re not interested in it, they’re not going to do it. They will dive into a screen and not come out.”

“But if we can wrestle them out of their screen and get them into the garden … give them the chance to connect with another human being,” great things can happen, he said. 

“Every kid will do well if we put just the right amount of non-parent adult time with them each week. … They take such pride in working for people that are outside of their home,” he added.

That’s where Rainy Day Farm comes in. 

The structure is loose, with programming meant to be tailored to the individual and meet the needs where they are. Options might include pairing a teen with a senior mentor to work in the garden or the kitchen, hosting small social skills groups, dance groups, school help or various workshops. 

“We want to be a source of support, a place to meet a mentor, pursue a hobby, or just an escape for a picnic,” the organization says on its Facebook page. “We are creating social opportunities to elevate each other. Our workshops will set goals, identify tasks and lay the foundations for the future.”

Lauren Lemieux works in a new indoor grow room for microgreens and winter greens at Rainy Day Farm. The organization is seeking mentors to pair with teens to adopt a plot among other activities. Courtesy of Scott Lemieux

A local financial planner, Lemieux is building the farm bit by bit, putting together a classroom space, teaching kitchen and tutoring room indoors, as well as several gardens, a greenhouse, skating rink and bobsled run outdoors. 

The work has been coming together with the help of 16-year-old Andrew Johnson, who said he is enjoying the opportunity to learn skills like carpentry, gardening, painting and building structures. 

“It’s fun,” he said, noting the problem solving, teamwork and patience the projects take. 

“A lot of the stuff we’re doing, I wouldn’t know how to do unless we’ve done it,” he said. “If it’s needed when I’m older, I’ll have the knowledge.”

He’s hopeful that other kids will enjoy the farm when it’s fully set up, and said Lemieux is “very nice, calm, yet energetic.” 

The timeline still needs to be ironed out, but Lemieux hopes that in the spring they can offer gardening and throughout the summer they can expand outdoor programming. Indoor programming will likely be contingent upon vaccine distribution, he said. 

In the meantime, he is looking for adults, especially seniors, who have experience in a variety of fields or who have experience working with teens with autism, ADD or anxiety and are interested in acting as mentors. 

To volunteer, or for more information visit Rainy Day Farm Mentoring Center on Facebook at facebook.com/rainydayfarmteens/


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