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Loving Life on the Farm

By Tim Brown

Like all farm animals, the chickens, cows, goats, and pigs at Special Hearts Farm require daily feeding and care. Farm Hand Juan Pablo “J.P.” Rodriguez enjoys starting his day working with livestock.

“I come here, and it makes me happy and proud,” Rodriguez said. “I love my job and I’m really tired when I go home.”

Rodriguez has a developmental disability and receives services from the Agency for Persons with Disabilities. October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and APD is highlighting the workplace achievements of people with disabilities and the employers that hire them.

Special Hearts Farm is a working farm staffed part-time by many people with developmental disabilities. As a mother of a son with autism, Kathy Meena founded the farm to help create meaningful and rewarding opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

“J.P. is a very hard worker. He does a lot of jobs and is very thorough. We feel like he is just a blessing to have here,” Meena said.

Rodriguez has worked at the farm since 2020. He has a real love for animals and enjoys feeding them and cleaning barns and pens.

The farm’s Adult Day Training Director Paul Durand says the animals have a tremendous impact on his clients. “The unique thing about working with animals is animals don’t care if they have a disability. They just love.”

The farm has a variety of barnyard friends, gardens, and an assortment of items made on-site (such as goat milk soap, bath bombs, and wood crafts) available for purchase through their store. While workers here learn valuable job skills, the farm also allows parents and families to stay in the workforce.

In his spare time, Rodriguez volunteers with Meals on Wheels. He helps pack and deliver the food to local needy families. Recently, he was given the “Everyday Hero of the Year” award by News 13 Orlando for his work in the community.

Durand says Rodriguez just wants to help others and recommends employers take notice.

“What I would say to anyone looking to hire someone with a disability is you’re getting a great employee. You’re getting somebody who not only cares about their job, but if you’re hiring somebody like J.P., you’re getting somebody who will bring in other people because he radiates love and joy,” Durand said.

APD supports people with developmental disabilities to live, learn and work in their communities. The agency annually serves more than 58,000 Floridians with autism, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, intellectual disabilities, Down syndrome, Phelan-McDermid syndrome, and Prader-Willi syndrome. For more information about the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, visit or call toll free 1-866-APD-CARES (1-866-273-2273).

Juan Pablo Rodriguez at Special Hearts Farm in Orlando, Florida.