A job training program is changing the lives of some Sapulpa High School students by teaching them life skills through farm work, gardening and art.
“It's good for your muscles and it's good for your brain,” said one student.
They call themselves the Sapulpa Green Thumb Chieftains with the motto ‘growing into the future.” They’re part of Sapulpa High School's job training program, which helps some of the district’s most special students prepare for life after graduation.
“I'm thankful for all the experiences they've had and the things that they learn here on this farm are gonna play into pretty much every aspect of their life,” said job coach Shawna Keizor.
Shawna has led the program for nearly 30 years. Her goal every day is to teach the students the value of hard work and creativity on a farm near Kellyville.
“The kids clean stalls, water and hay livestock, collect eggs from the chickens,” said Shawna. “So, just some really unique experiences that builds a good, solid foundation for their future when they leave high school and go to work.”
The farm is owned by Veterinarian Dr. Dan Denham and his wife, Nita.
“One of our former students called it the happiest place on earth. And that is true,” Shawna said.
“I think it's perfect. I like it out here,” said Sapulpa sophomore Josiah West. “You get to be out in fresh air, get to see more nature. Get to explore new things, see the animals.”
The Denhams have let Shawna and her Sapulpa students come out and work on their property for about 15 years.
“They work here every day and we just absolutely love them,” said Nita Denham. “[Shawna] brings out the absolute best in these kids and teaches them discipline. She's teaching them skills that they'll take with them the rest of their lives.”
“And teaches them pride. They're proud of stuff they do,” said Dr. Dan Denham.
The students recently started a greenhouse. They grow plants and flowers from seed up, then sell them.
“You need to water the plants mostly every day,” said one student. Kind of like us, we need a bunch of water.
The students have also started creating 3D art, using things like pine cones, sticks and other nature items they find on the farm.
“I'm proud of it. It's really cool,” said Sapulpa freshman Dakoda Romero. “It's just crazy how it turns to amazing artwork to, like, just boom and people buy it and it makes me kind of happy when people buy the artwork and stuff.”
They sell the art, too. Each piece is stamped with the artist's green thumb and signature.
“It makes me feel like a real artist, one of those professional artists,” Josiah said. “Now that I know we got people that's buying it, I want to do more.”
None of the Green Thumb students graduate this year, but they all already know what they want to do next.
“A police officer, [I want to] help people out,” said Silas Wideman.
“I want to work at Dollar Tree or the candy store,” Dakoda said.
“I want to become a bus driver and head director at the service center,” Josiah said.
“I'm gonna be helping citizens [at a] nursing home,” said the other student, whose name we can’t share.
For now, though, they will continue working together—on a farm more special than any other.
“We call this a work family. We got each other's backs. We never let each other down. We don’t leave nobody out,” Josiah said with a smile.
The Sapulpa Green Thumb Chieftains program runs primarily off donations, so all the money raised from the greenhouse and artwork goes back into the program.
The best way to reach out about getting plants, flowers or artwork, is through the Sapulpa Green Thumb Chieftains Facebook page.