Thanks to a grant proposal written in October by Richard Lukas, one of eight teachers in the program, Islands Flowers began operations in March with $2,400 in seed money from the state. The company sells and delivers flower arrangements through a type of subscription service.
The students buy flowers wholesale and put them in arrangements they sell for $5 and replenish with fresh blooms for $1 a week. About 40 teachers have signed up for the service. The students also sold corsages and boutonnières during the Channel Islands High School prom and produced a TV commercial, shot by creative arts department students, to advertise the service.
Students in the post-secondary transition program are classified by the state as “severely intellectually disabled,” but Lukas said, “We don’t really classify them. We treat them as individuals. That’s just the label the state (and federal government) puts on them to make them eligible for this program.”
The program teaches the students, ages 18 to 22, four domains of “adaptive functioning,” Lukas said. It serves 84 students, with 37 more to join next year. The domains are domestic, community access, vocational, and recreation and leisure.
“They are levels that you and I function on just with a little more ease,” said Lukas, explaining that domestic includes things like personal appearance and household maintenance. Community access involves tasks like going shopping or to the bank. Recreation and leisure deals with structuring free time with hobbies, friends and other activities.
Lukas said the students helped decide on flowers as the basis of their business and, after picking the name, also designed a logo.
“This gives students the chance to really see a business from the ground up, no pun intended,” he said.
The students also planted a garden outside the modular classrooms.
“We talked about seeds and how they grow,” Lukas said.
In addition to the state grant, generous contributions have come from Green Thumb International in Ventura, Faulkner Farms in Santa Paula and others.
Every interested student had to apply to join the company and be interviewed.
“Of course, we hired them all, but it’s a valuable exercise,” Lukas said.
News they were hired came a few days after the interviews.
“We made them sweat it out,” he said.
Then they were assigned tasks according to skills and interests.
“We’re hoping to expand, but we need to increase our infrastructure in terms of transportation and delivery,” Lukas said. “We’re now doing it on foot. I’d like to get into the high school and the district offices.
“We’re still finding out our capacity. We were busy during prom season.”
The business aims to be profitable or at least financially sustainable.
Students and instructors, clad in blue aprons bearing the Islands Flowers logo, were recently at work on several dozen table centerpiece arrangements for the high school’s senior awards presentation.
Cynthia Ruiz, 20, and foster grandmother Angela Hernandez showed off a corsage and a single rose Ruiz said would be perfect “for the wife or boss.”
Student Marilyn Buenavista, 20, shyly explained that “helping” was her favorite part of the business and the rose was her favorite flower.
“Faced with such challenges, they thrive and they make such an effort,” teacher Patti Gault said. “If everyone in the workforce did that, we’d have super crews everywhere.”