Laurel garden aimed at helping residents, community

Chris Bofto, a resident of Reality substance-abuse treatment center, mixes soil in the new community garden in Laurel this month.
Chris Bofto, a resident of Reality substance-abuse treatment center, mixes soil in the new community garden in Laurel this month. (Greg Dohler/the Gazette)
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By Caitlin Moran
The Gazette
Thursday, April 22, 2010

After 30 years of abusing cocaine, Tim Williams said he knows his road to recovery will be a long one. But for now, Williams is focused on what is in front of him -- as are a host of others in Laurel.

Four Laurel organizations -- Laurel Boys and Girls Club, Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services, Reality Treatment Centers and Phelps Senior Center -- have joined forces to tend a new vegetable and flower garden along the Eighth Street side of the Phelps Center.

The harvest's bounty will go to help feed those seeking assistance at Reality, a nonprofit that serves as a halfway house for recovering addicts, and LARS, which provides homeless and low-income residents with food, shelter and emergency assistance.

But project organizers hope the community garden yields much more than food.

"It takes your mind off everything else," Williams, a 53-year-old resident of Reality Treatment Centers, said at the garden's official opening April 8. "Plus, it's good for the community."

Lana Dreyfuss, a clinical supervisor at Reality, agrees.

Tending plants can be therapeutic for recovering addicts because of the time commitment and focus that is needed to make a garden grow, said Dreyfuss, who also heads the American Horticultural Therapy Association, a national organization that promotes the healing nature of gardening.

"You're concentrating on [the plants], so everything else . . . is kind of let go of," she said. "If you can grow a plant, you can grow as well."

Planting began April 7, and officials from the four groups say they hope the garden becomes a way for individuals from all walks of life to grow as a community.

The area was dug up by city officials last fall, Dreyfuss said, adding that Behnke Nurseries donated two raised beds to accompany the 30-by-50-foot main plot. Gardeners from Reality and the other groups still are deciding what to plant but hope to have everything in the ground by the end of May. The flowers for the garden are donated, and Reality is looking for a donor for compost and fencing materials in the coming weeks.

Once the seeds are planted, volunteers from the groups will take turns tending the garden.

Donny Phillips, director of emergency and homeless services at LARS, said the organization still is determining how it will be involved with the project. Phillips said he plans to develop a way for LARS clients, many of whom are homeless and looking for work, to become involved.

"It's really good for people to be involved and do things," he said.

In addition to the therapeutic nature of gardening, the project gives people who are receiving assistance a way to do something beneficial for the community that has helped get them back on their feet, said Reality resident Charles McCorvey, 51.

"It's just a way for me to give back and help somebody else," he said.

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