Soiree in the vines raises funds for D'Vine Path

 

Last updated 9/22/2019 at 12:33am

Chris Miller, vineyard instructor, shows guests how to press grapes, during the Vineyard Soiree, Saturday, Sept. 14.

Kyarra Harris

Special to Village News

Statistics show that more than half of young adults with autism remain unemployed or unenrolled in higher education after finishing high school, according to Autism Speaks. D'Vine Path seeks to change that statistic with their program to help young adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger's gain employment and social skills.

Established on the Batali Ranch owned by Lenila and Brent Batali, students gain skills with the hands on responsibilities of growing and tending to vineyards. The Vineyard Soiree, held Sept. 14, was a fundraiser with 100% of the proceeds going back to D'Vine Path's Viticulture and Hospitality Program.

"My inspiration was my daughter," Lenila Batali, founder and executive director, said. "Once young adults reach the age of 22, there are little to no services for them if they have autism or Asperger's. Our program consists of two 12-week sessions, where students learn hospitality skills, take field trips, listening to guest speakers, and meet possible employers."


During the event, guests were able to participate in grape picking and grape stomping as well as purchase raffle tickets for auctions, while celebrating the program, its team and students.

About 150 people attended; many guests were parents and relatives while others were there to support the program's cause. The evening began with a check-in and small stalls, ran by a few students, with wine, jams and refreshments. Guests were able to look out into the vineyards and mingle with others before the festivities began.

Team members mark this event as a first, though they held a smaller version of it the previous year. They aimed to create a larger event with more ways to interact with other guests. Some guests came to explore the ranch and the program for themselves, to see if D'Vine was right for them.

Jen Winans, one of the lead facilitators said she works as a hospice nurse full time but working with her students is her way to relax.

"This is my way to escape work, Winans said. "It's very rewarding, watching them [students] grow. They're shy at first, now they have goals, skill sets, and a social group of friends, they lean on each other."

Guests were offered tastes of wine from different vineyards, as well as the wine produced by student who grew the grapes, bottled and corked the wine themselves. Many have been offered jobs in wine management and hospitality.

Jennifer DiMuzio, a student at D'Vine, said since participating in the program she has gained valuable experience.

"I have a new job at Myrtle Creek and I love working there," DiMuzio said. "I learned a lot about the winery, other job skills, hospitality and how to build a resume."

One of the advantages for students is the pleasure of being surrounded by others who understand and accept their differences. Ian Compton, another student of D'Vine, said all of them are different. He used to work with other students with disabilities while he was in high school, but the program gave him even more confidence in himself.


"I like working with people like me. When I'm talking to people who are not like me it's off-putting for them, which is understandable, but I have to pretend to be someone else and put on a mask. I used to feel like sharing my strengths was bragging, but I learned to show off my skills."

Guests were also able to view the students' gardens and row of vines that they take care of during their time at Batali Ranch.

Kai Kroger, a student, said one of the hardest challenges was not having his phone with him. Instructors tell students to put away their phones once they enter the ranch. Jenn Vampola, Kroger's mother, said she and her son are grateful for the time and dedication instructors have put into the program.

"Every parent is worried about their child's well-being." Vampola said. "Now he has friends, he's more social and he's really happy. The teachers here are kind and supportive, and don't act like babysitters. Everyone needs a purpose."

The evening ended with team members giving thanks to all involved in the program during a dinner of grilled chicken, salad, pasta and assorted desserts, provided by Z Café.

"This program and its students amaze me," lead facilitator Phylis Miller said. "I understand so much more about them; they were so shy when we first started, but now they're more social and getting jobs. We'll even be harvesting the grapes soon."


To learn more about D'Vine Path's programs, visit http://www.dvinepath.org.

Guests take turns participating in grape-stomping with their bare feet. This method of maceration is used in traditional wine-making.

 

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