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Growing relationships--naturally. (Not-for-Profit Report).

Horticulturists advise that it takes water, sunlight, fertile soil, and love to make a plant flourish. In the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, the New York Congregational Nursing Center (NYCNC) believes that not only plants, but also people, respond to careful tending. Acting on that philosophy, NYCNC applied for and received a grant from the United Hospital Fund, a health services and philanthropic organization, to develop and implement Nurture Your Nature, a program in which residents and schoolchildren partner to explore the environment and ecology.

"Nurture Your Nature is a brand-new branch of our horticultural program," says Celia Zuckerman, executive vice-president of NYCNC, a 200-bed skilled nursing facility. "For the past three years, we've seen how residents respond to gardening activities. By using barrel-containers, mobile grow units, and portable wheelchair-accessible gardens, residents keep in touch with the living world around them. We've even put small water fountains in the rolling gardens, which create a very sensory Zen effect." Through horticultural diversions such as these, residents can, once again, enjoy the positive, pleasurable experience of gardening.

With that thought in mind, NYCNC, the Brooklyn Center for the Urban Environment (a not-for-profit group committed to educating the community about environmental issues and connecting it to local projects dedicated to preserving the environment), and P.S. 235 (a local elementary school) have collaborated on the Nurture Your Nature intergenerational program to expand the appreciation of nature in its entirety, while promoting values, respect, and compassion for all individuals, regardless of age. Topics addressed in its programs are geared to each grade school level as they correlate with the New York City Board of Education curricula for grades 2 through 5. Topics include clipping and propagating plants; terrarium design; starting seedlings for butterfly, herb, and outdoor gardens; designing an herb garden and investigating the uses of healing herbs; studying worm and plant anatomy; and constructing jungle gardens.

According to Irene Carr, NYCNC's director of special projects, six-week modules are scheduled for each grade, with students and residents working together. The school bus arrives at the facility every Friday, including the summer months, for an hour-and-a-half class. "The first week of every module is designed as a 'meet and greet' experience, which gives both the residents and, at this time, the students an opportunity to tell everyone a little about themselves," says Carr. "After these introductions, each student is paired with a resident 'grandparent."'

Besides promoting nature education, another program goal is relationship building; each child-resident team works together for the entire program. Such strong bonds have been formed that residents eagerly look forward to the class visits. "On Fridays, we don't have to remind residents that it's time for the program or urge them to attend. They arrive in the lobby or classroom in plenty of time to greet the yellow school bus," notes Zuckerman.

Because of the structure of this program, residents (who are generally on the receiving end of care) have an opportunity to become care "givers" to these children. During a discussion on mealy worms, recalls Carr, one child asked his partner if he was afraid of worms. "Heavens, no," he replied. "When I was small, we had a wonderful fishing hole near our house and I would go there with my father." This, in turn, sparked an entire conversation about where the resident grew up, how to bait a hook, what kinds of fish were caught, and so on. "It's important to remember that these are inner-city children and the idea of sitting with a line in the water is foreign to them," stresses Zuckerman. "Simply hearing about a resident's memories of fishing can make such a vivid impression that it might inspire a child to plan on giving fishing a try."

Care giving is not one-sided, however. Explains Carr: "One lesson on the parts of a flower required that the flower be dissected and examined. One child noticed that her resident teammate seemed very tired and offered to help do the work for her." Indeed, whether building a terrarium or dissecting a worm and studying its parts under a microscope, the children display a natural insight and genuine respect for their "grandparents." This mutual admiration was demonstrated shortly after the fifth-grade module-the first Nurture Your Nature group-was completed. One resident kept asking about her student, obviously missing his company and hearing about his youthful adventures. She kept insisting that he wouldn't forget her and that she'd see him again. "As it happened," Zuckerman explained, "he managed to come back with the new group of students. Overjoyed, the resident exclaimed, 'See, he's back! I told you he'd be back.' Her happiness is a testament to the program and to the mutual regard that can grow in a nurtur ing, cooperative, and caring environment.

One of the most telling parts of the program involves the memory books"--journals containing the thoughts and artwork of the residents and children and chronicling their growth in knowledge, as illustrated through their words, drawings, and photographs. These memory books are kept throughout the program and become a treasured remembrance for the residents.

Looking ahead, NYCNC plans to distribute questionnaires to residents, students, and facilitators to evaluate the program's success. To refine Nurture Your Nature, these surveys will be analyzed to determine the program's strengths and weaknesses, and adaptations will be made to improve its overall effectiveness. Currently, attendance is charted and participation graphed and compared throughout the program.

To encourage other area long-term care facilities to explore the feasibility of initiating a similar program, NYCNC plans to assemble a workbook detailing its workings, including an inventory of materials and supplies, budgetary considerations, and instructions and ideas for each project. "This is a very natural and rewarding activity for all concerned," says Carr. "Whether watching ants hard at work tunneling between plates of glass, pressing flowers, designing gardens and terrariums, or painting a nature scene, residents and children learn the importance ofcaring for and about nature--including each other."

For more information, phone Celia Zuckerman, New York Congregational Nursing Center executive vice-president, at (718) 693-6060, ext. 101. To comment on this article, please send e-mail to
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Title Annotation:Nurture Your Nature program
Author:Hoban, Sandra
Publication:Nursing Homes
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Previous Article:Design Center.
Next Article:Help wanted: senior volunteers. (Not-for-Profit Report).

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