Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'Lil Lena Garden

On a sunny June morning, the backyard at the 801 Lena House (affectionally known as 'Lil Lena, since it is next to the main residential home or the "big" Lena house) began buzzing with excitement. The Women of Magdalene readied themselves for a day of transformation- turning the bare backyard into a flourishing garden.  Volunteers Marcie Brolund, Mark, and JoniLea Stewart greeted the women with smiling faces and cars overflowing with gardening supplies.

Marcie, a register nurse and long time volunteer, first became involved as a part of the Faith Family Medical Clinic's "Journey to Health" partnership with Magdalene. In an effort to nurture healthy bodies and spirits, Marcie has organized 5k walks, smoking cessation classes, and a leads a walking group every Tuesday and Thursday. After a conversation with fellow volunteer, LeeAnn Hayes, Marcie turned her attention to nutrition. She realized the women “live in a good food desert” where healthy fruits and vegetables are expensive and hard to find.  They imagined a vegetable garden to provide the women healthy homegrown produce.

However, they felt the garden should be more than for just sustenance for the body, it should feed the soul. In an email Marcie explained their vision, writing:

“I wanted a place for the women to not only produce some healthy foods for their bodies, and learn how to do so, so that they may continue in the future, but also have another place to relax and heal, one that is beautiful, and something that they can look at and be proud of, a haven for them to relax and heal and rest and recover.”
Marcie and Keri Seay, Magdalene’s Assistant Program Director began planning the garden’s construction. Serendipitously, they found Mark and JoniLea while responding to a Craigslist ad for planter boxes. After hearing about the project and learning about the Women of Magdalene, Mark and JoniLea quickly became “gardening angels.” Mark has stage four oral cancer, and has lost part of his tongue as a result, hindering his speech. In spite of the fact that his energy is limited most days, he and his wife have devoted themselves to the garden with infectious enthusiasm.

Marcie, Keri, Mark, and JoniLea exchanged ideas by email and over the phone, organizing support and supplies for the garden. Mark met with the staff at the Dickerson Street Lowe’s, where he once worked and is still beloved, to negotiate prices for the garden. Lowe’s and their staff went above and beyond, donating $400 worth of supplies. Additionally, Lowe’s has committed to sell an arbor and picket fencing to Magdalene close to cost. Bates Nursery has also partnered with the project, donating beautiful flowers and herbs.
Back in the yard, the vision became a reality as the women unloaded the gifts. Dressed for the occasion in brightly colored gardening gloves, the ladies were excited to get to work. Joan, a resident, kept asking, “When can I get my hands in the dirt?” They worked together happily, despite the afternoon heat, energized by the beauty of the flowers. Lydia, a resident (almost graduate!), unloaded an unexpected treat, a tall wood birdhouse she had requested. At the end of the day, the women and the volunteers felt proud as they looked at the beautiful sanctuary they had created.

In the future, the women will be responsible for the garden’s upkeep. They will water the garden daily, and will use group times on Tuesdays and Thursdays to tend to the garden as needed. Marcie, Mark, JoniLea, and LeeAnn also plan to teach the women how to harvest, prepare the vegetables, and to cook with herbs.
Special thanks to Marcie Brolund, her son Matthew, JoniLea, Mark, Keri Seay, LeeAnn Hayes, Bates Nursery, and the Dickerson Street Lowe’s for making all of this possible!

Written By Katie, Magdalene Intern
Photos by Marcie, Volunteer through the Faith Family Medical Clinic


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