Frederick Reynolds frequently suffers from severe bouts of depression. But he has found a partial cure through Green Thumb, a program that employs the low-income elderly.
Reynolds is one of 138 District residents who got jobs through Green Thumb. As an administrative assistant for the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, he spends four hours a day solving problems for public housing residents.
Reynolds had nothing to do before getting a Green Thumb job. Now, after working more than a year, he said his job "gives me the approval I need for survival." His new-found self-esteem helps ward off depression, he added.
Conjuring up an image of planting seeds, Green Thumb does in fact sow hope for Washington's low-income elderly. The nonprofit program, with offices at 1500 Massachusetts Ave. NW, is part of a nationwide scheme that gets jobs for persons 55 and older with income of $4,200 or less, (or $5,680 or less for married couples). In the District, Green Thumb employes work at a variety of jobs ranging from painters and janitors to clerical workers and recreation aides.
"If Mr. Reynolds were not working for Green Thumb," says Louise B. Stokes, director of the program, "he would be sitting alone in his apartment all day."
Stokes said the program began in Washington in 1976 when one of its sponsors, National Farmers Union, decided to include the urban poor. The program, then 11 years old, had previously been only for farm workers -- hence its name.
Green Thumb has been so popular in Washington, Stokes said, that there are currently 175 people on the waiting list. Although there is a city hiring freeze until July 1, she said Green Thumb can still help find jobs for qualified senior citizens.
Bill Clark, a social services analyst who supervises Reynolds' work at the public housing office at 1170 M St. NW, said the Green Thumb employe shows great perseverance trying to help public housing residents.
"He is the kind of person who will make that 11th pnone call to find help for someone even if he has been told 'no' 10 times before. This often makes people mad, but he gets aid for the residents," said Clark.
Pauline Brown, a 65-year-old Green Thumb worker who is crippled by polio, works as a recreation aide teaching crocheting and other kinds of needlework to residents at Potomac Gardens' Senior Citizens Building in Southeast Washington.
"I think the Green Thumb program is marvelous," Brown said. "It has given me a chance. I am free to exercise what I do best and I feel proud about it."
At 16, Brown was placed in a West Virginia senior citizen's center because the state had no facilities for handicapped blacks. She came to Washington in 1965.
"My situation was really hopeless," she said, "I kept getting training, but no jobs."
Brown had worked for the Red Cross and Goodwill, and had taken correspondence courses in such specialties as doll-making, but could not get a job because of her age and handicap.
Stokes said Green Thumb immediately included Brown when she was found to be qualified. Brown, like most of those involved in Green Thumb, is paid $3.10 an hour and is limited to a 20-hour work week. Some 40-hour-a-week jobs are available.
Brown summed up the benefits of the Green Thumb program: "I guess it gives me a sense of pride. I feel good about myself. It really means a lot."