A novel program has the residents of a neighborhood group home, the traditional recipients of services, becoming providers instead.
Mercy Home, located in the former St. Anthony’s Convent on Manhattan Avenue, is home to 14 women with significant developmental challenges. Most of its residents are non-verbal, and several are hearing or vision impaired. Two are wheelchair-bound.
While brainstorming about programs, Director of Intermediate Care Facility Services, Angela Pionegro suggested a backyard vegetable garden for the residents, whose produce could be donated to local people in-need. After many years of services coming to the facility, “we wanted to be the giver, instead of the receiver,” said Pionegro. And with that, “Plant – Grow – Give” was established.
The privately funded project began with twelve of the residents planting 100 donated eggplant, tomato, cherry tomato and green pepper plants in the backyard. Wooden planting boxes were made for the wheelchair-bound residents, so they could participate as well.
Next came a partnership with the Greenpoint Reformed Church, in which 90% of the harvest gets directed to their Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry. In addition, up to three of the women help out at the church by assisting with packing food bags and food distribution. Reformed Church Co-Pastor Ann Kansfield said, “Their generosity is really inspiring. It’s such a delight to have them drop off their harvest each week.”
The residents do all the planting, watering, weeding and pruning, as well as the deliveries, supervised by the staff. According to Chief Development Officer Sister Caroline Tweedy, that hands-on involvement makes the women feel like a true part of their community. It also helps, she said, to show “the progress that persons with significant disabilities can make with innovative programming and proper support. You can’t imagine how happy and satisfying it makes someone who has traditionally been on the receiving end of ‘charity’ feel.”
Mercy Home receives its support from Sisters of Mercy, a 150 year old charitable foundation that began operating group homes, in 1981, to help the developmentally challenged “live in dignity and with purpose.” They currently operate 13 homes, like the one in Greenpoint, in Brooklyn and Queens.
Since teaming up with the Greenpoint Reformed Church, the partnership has grown to include several developmentally disabled men from another Mercy Home who help stock the shelves at the pantry. Theresa, unable to speak and confined to a geri chair, has also joined the team to help bake cookies for the soup kitchen. Sisters of Mercy was so impressed by the early success of “Plant – Grow – Give” that they gave a $10,000 grant to expand the program next year. The next goal for the program is to purchase a greenhouse for year-round planting.
To help support Mercy Home or to learn more about “Plant – Grow – Give”, visit www.mercyhomeny.org.
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