Gardeners know things.
They know the emotional benefits of nurturing plants, the physical benefits of digging, sorting, carrying, and arranging. They know the personal benefits of accomplishment, satisfaction, and pride. They know that being outdoors — experiencing the sun and seasons; hearing insects, birds and breezes; feeling and smelling dirt, leaves, water — is a grounding, stabilizing experiences. Donna Vincent, an Arboretum volunteer, channels all these benefits to help the participants in her ARC program understand these things too.
Donna Vincent has a long association with Landis as both a volunteer and a former Board member. She works for ARC in Schenectady as Horticulture Coordinator. Founded in 1952, Schenectady ARC is a chapter of The ARC New York, Inc., a private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to supporting individuals with intellectual and other developmental disabilities and their families throughout New York State.
The therapeutic benefits of garden environments have been documented since ancient times. Horticultural therapy helps improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization. In physical rehabilitation, horticultural therapy can help strengthen muscles and improve coordination, balance, and endurance. In vocational horticultural therapy settings, participants learn to work independently, problem solve, and follow directions.
Donna’s job responsibilities include overseeing a 2500-square foot commercial greenhouse, where she teaches participants the growing process from seed to harvest. She also manages a vegetable garden that grows produce for sale at Schenectady City Farmer’s Market and puts food on the tables of residents. Those in her program are involved with a long list of endeavors that include: floral design classes using recycled flowers from local funeral homes; growing houseplants, annuals and vegetables in the greenhouse; having accessible vegetable gardens in the back courtyard; flower plantings at the site in Schenectady; and a vermi-composting project (i.e., the composting process using various species of worms).
Donna indicated that “selling our extra plants at the Schenectady City Farmer’s Market each week during the growing season helps sustain our program, as well as give our individuals the opportunity to interact with the public.”
There’s more! Individuals at ARC volunteer in the community with horticultural-related activities, such as flower arrangements for ARC employees, and for Administrative Professional’s Day and Nurse’s Day. ARC’s gardeners go to the Eddy Senior Center twice a month. They help out at spring and fall plantings of community gardens, at the Rotterdam United Methodist Church, and at Pine Ridge Industries. They have contracts for planting and maintaining the flower beds at Albany International Airport, the Rotterdam Methodist Church, and Pine Ridge Industries. ARC participants regularly contribute to both the spring and fall plant sales at Landis.
The scope of Donna’s program is wide, varied, and beneficial to participants, their families, the public, and contractees. Group gardening promotes social interaction. People of any age can do it and activities can be varied according to abilities. Gardening for people with disabilities helps to improve motor skills and reduce stress, increase social skills, develop job skills and all around enrichment – benefits that any gardener enjoys!