Seated in her wheelchair and wearing her favorite Carolina Panthers jacket, Rasheedah Thrasher did what she loves best last week: shape clay into art.
Thrasher, 26, of Troutman, was creating a "mug mug," a mug with a face on it. She said she will sell it once it's done.
She turned the piece in a pottery class at the Troutman satellite campus of Charlotte-based LifeSpan, a 35-year-old nonprofit that provides education, employment and enrichment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities. Her work will be fired in a kiln on the LifeSpan grounds.
Thrasher, who has cerebral palsy, was among dozens of students on hand last week for LifeSpan's announcement that its Troutman center will serve as the statewide model for the organization's new "arts and garden" curriculum.
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Students attend 90-minute classes each day in art, horticulture, recreation and health/wellness.
The Troutman center, near the Iredell County Fairgrounds, has hired a professional horticulture specialist and an arts coordinator and will hire for similar positions as its rolls out the offerings at its other locations across the state.
The organization refurbished space in its Troutman buildings into separate rooms for its classes, including an art studio and a gallery.
As Thrasher molded her piece of pottery, in another room about 10 other students finished putting soil into small plastic pots. They'll grow daffodils in the pots and sell them, all part of the new horticulture curriculum.
In yet another room, students learn interviewing skills to help them land jobs. Eighteen LifeSpan students, for instance, work at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport, said Woody Faulk, LifeSpan spokesman and former board member.
LifeSpan serves about 1,200 students at campuses from Alamance County west to Haywood County in the mountains, including 38 students in Troutman.
The organization also unveiled the curriculum at sites in Monroe and Dobson last week. It plans to incorporate it into its other locations by June. Officials said they launched the curriculum at their Troutman site because that location already had many of the offerings in place.
The Troutman location also has Blue Sky Nature Center, where people with disabilities walk or wheel along a paved quarter-mile path in the woods behind the center.
A grant from Mooresville-based Lowe's Companies Inc. and the labor of numerous volunteers made the outdoor center possible. Seven Boy Scouts did projects there to earn their Eagle Scout badges, the highest rank in Boy Scouts. An eighth is working on his project there now.
Wheeling along the Blue Sky Nature Center path is another of Thrasher's favorite pursuits.
She recently did the trail seven times nonstop and would have kept going, except for one problem:
Her attendant got tired and had to quit.