PITTSBURGH - Inside the Drew Mathieson Center, the warm spirit of Christmas is blooming.
It is a
state-of-the-art greenhouse producing orchids and special crops for wholesale, but that's just one facet.
There are 2,500 poinsettias in this
greenhouse, but the real purpose of the place is to cultivate people.
This is actually a classroom that grows careers for horticulture students at the Bidwell Training Center, on Pittsburgh's North Shore.
"The heart of the training is preparing people for careers. Once a person is in a career, it gives them a good outlook on life," said Paulo Nzambi, the CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation.
That's what it did for Kaitlin Watson.
"It was just
life-changing. Without it, I would maybe find another retail job that I would be miserable at," she said.
After graduating, Watson got a job as a landscaper.
Her boss, Claire Schuchman, pointed out to Channel 11's Peggy Finnegan that many of her employees are Bidwell grads.
"We find them to be really well-rounded in horticultural education, and also they want to be landscapers," she said.
The program is the brainchild of Manchester Bidwell founder Bill Strickland, who believes the environment has a profound impact on a person's ability to grow and learn.
A lot of the students are adults in transition -- people who have lost their jobs or overcoming adversity.
The Bidwell Center provides scholarships and the hope of a new future.
"When people come from challenged
backgrounds and backgrounds of poverty, they are often surrounded by environments that aren't uplifting," said Nzabmi. "An environment like this, that's filled with light and beauty and flowers and things alive and growing, really uplifts the soul and spirit."
"It not only changed my life to have this at my disposal," said Watson. "It made my dreams come true, to be happy at a job."
The Bidwell Training Center offers other programs, including culinary arts and pharmacy technicians.
Leaders said their graduation rate is 80 percent, and most graduates go to work in their field.
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