CI Hero: Christopher’s Garden gives Twin Cities man with disabilities purpose, helps others in need


A 24-year-old man with Down Syndrome and autism is using his love of gardening to help others in need in his Twin Cities community. Christopher Sullivan is this week’s CI Hero.

It’s been one year since Christopher Sullivan has found purpose as an adult in a way he understands. The Sullivan’s started Christopher’s Garden with the hope that might smile and to have fun with others.

“Chris is pretty good,” said Chuck Sullivan, Christopher’s father. “Christopher waters every day. He watches and he helps with the planting.”

He never has interacted with anyone expect his mom, dad, his older brother and two sisters. He’s currently in his second growing and picking season. Christopher’s Garden began as a seed of an idea in 2018 in his parents’ Bloomington backyard.

“The garden is something which is special to him,” said Chuck.

Christopher is limited in his communications skills, but the easiest way for him to express himself is through fresh foods. You see, he grows everything from tomatoes, to green peppers, to zucchini.

His family has partnered with Marcfirst. It’s a Twin Cities agency that aims to support people with disabilities and help them reach their full potential through adulthood. The food that Christopher grows heads to homes the company provides for, and ever since that partnership began, Christopher has grown out of his shell, too.

“Everyone is so excited,” said Jennifer Randol, Residential Director for Marcfirst. “They love it. So it’s kind of like an office announcement like, ‘Christopher’s here!’ and everyone comes running. It goes to one of eight homes, whichever one wants it. We do a program called My 25 and so [residents] send us a meal plan and then we kind of put these items in. So we had lots of Zucchini brownies, lots of Zucchini bread. We’ve definitely got to use the tomatoes this year.”

The saying goes that if you share your garden, your heart will grow and Christopher’s impact both big and small is encouraging others to have a more “giving” spirit.

What we really wanted to do with Christopher’s Garden was to send a message that anybody can do this. We started every week or 10 days going in there with bushels and baskets of veggies. Every time we brought it in the acceptance at Marcfirst got larger. We had all the different people from the place coming out to help. We had the people in the homes coming out to help and they’re telling us how much they appreciate the food and how special it made them feel.

Chuck Sullivan, Christopher’s father

The one year anniversary celebration includes almost doubling the existing gardening space in 2019. In addition, the 2020 plan is now to have the marcfirst residents actually helping Christopher and his family with the prepping of the new expanded garden. They’ll help plant and harvest veggies.

If someone you know has made made an impact on the community in a way you feel would make us Central Illinois Proud please nominate them to be a CI Hero by clicking HERE.

More about Marcfirst

Marcfirst was started in 1955 by a group of families of children with disabilities in order to provide support to each other and their children during a period in American history when children with disabilities were often excluded from the public school system. As young people developed into adults, young adults and their families faced new challenges. There were limited options for families to find adult living situations for their adult child with disabilities.  Our goal has always been to provide an array of housing options that will enable families to remain close to their adult children and yet provide the adult child with the opportunity to maintain their independence and choice in where and with whom they live.

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