Gardening for Independence
Jim coordinates the CASA garden in Huntsville, Ala. This gardening program grows and then delivers produce to several thousand elderly and homebound residents each year.
"It's run 100 percent by volunteers," Jim said. "All the harvest goes to the elderly and homebound at no charge. We deliver it to them." To make that happen, Jim volunteers hundreds of hours each year tending the garden and recruiting volunteers. His motivation, he said, is simple.
"When you see the smile on an elderly person's face, you know it's worth it," he said.
Jim started volunteering at the CASA garden in 1992. Three years later he took over coordinating the garden because "they told me I was in charge. What could I say?" he said with a laugh.
Last year he mobilized 1,000 volunteers from all over the community. "I ask anybody or any group I can find: church groups, boy scout troops, schools, gardening clubs, anyone who might be able to help," he said.
Local kindergarten classes colored paper bags to use when delivering the produce. A middle school art class created 10 life-sized scarecrows for the garden. A high school art class created a mural that volunteers sign. Volunteers are responsible for many different roles in the program. Jim will have one group come to the garden to help harvest. "There's no fence at the garden. We harvest and leave it out for other volunteers who come to pick it up to deliver to people," he said.
During Jim's tenure as coordinator, the harvest (in just 1/3 of an acre) has increased from 5,635 pounds to 18,826 pounds. And it's more than just produce. The elderly recipients are also able to interact with the volunteers who deliver the vegetables and often stay for an extended visit.
In 1998, Jim somehow found the time to create an additional program. The GardenAngel Program provides 20 homebound elderly with their own raised bed garden and a volunteer gardener. The volunteer comes to their home each week to help them maintain the garden. This provides them with a daily activity and a friend.
With Jim's help, the CASA Garden and the GardenAngel Program are showing how a garden can help provide the elderly with companionship, activity and healthy food.
Ann Anderson, the Executive Director of CASA and the person who nominated Jim for this award, described Jim's work this way:
"Jim's efforts in the CASA garden have made a real difference in many lives. Jim's unfailing love and dedication has not only made an impact in the community, it has given hundreds of isolated elderly people better quality of life."
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