A fortuitous meeting between DeKalb County Extension Coordinator Lori Wheeler and Executive Director of Arc of DeKalb County Christy Wood has grown into a flourishing program that brings together several local organizations to enhance the environment of the residence of Arc community homes. The Arc is the largest national community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. The Arc of DeKalb County has six group homes where residents are permanently based, as well as the main office that offers daytime activities and enrichment.
“I met Christy Wood at a program we were both working at. After striking up a conversation with her and finding out about the Arc Community, I knew I wanted to find a way for the Extension System to be involved with her program. I reached out to Christy for suggestions and she mentioned several of the residents at the community homes used to garden when they lived with family members and enjoyed it and missed the activity. She suggested the idea of gardens, and it gave me a clear plan of what I wanted to pursue” -Lori Wheeler, DeKalb County Extension Coordinator
With the vision in mind, Lori reached out to fellow Extension Agents, Hunter McBrayer and Eric Shavey and pitched the idea of raised garden beds, they responded with enthusiasm. The Master Gardeners of DeKalb County were enlisted to help with teaching the residents about planting and care for the gardens. Extension Agent Chasity Little jumped on board to help with guidance on teaching about the nutritional value of the produce grown in the garden. Lori began to seek a way to fund the project and she applied for and was awarded a grant from Lowe’s. With a strong group of helping hands and the funding for supplies, the plan was in place and building of the gardens began.
After the completion of the gardens and first interactions with the Arc residents, the Master Gardeners decided they wanted to further their involvement with the gardens and maintain relationships that had begun with the residents. By the end of the summer, all six homes had their gardens. Five of the homes have two raised garden beds, and one has one raised herb garden (which is best suited the environment of the home). Each of the home’s gardens was “adopted” by two Master Gardeners who do routine checks and maintain general upkeep while working with the residents. The project continued on into the winter, where squash and tomatoes were exchanged for broccoli and cabbage and the winter gardens flourished as well.
The Arc Gardens, Phase II
Now in the summer of 2017, DeKalb County Extension has received a second grant from Lowe’s and preparations are underway to begin planting the summer gardens. Reflecting on the first year of this project it has been more than a success for all involved. Seeing the joy of the residents who enjoy the Extension Agents and Master Gardener visits as much as they do the gardens is contagious. The workers involved have found gratification not only from the relationships developed but also from recognition on a professional level, as their work with the gardens has resulted in awards for all involved:
- Lori Wheeler, DeKalb County Extension Coordinator was awarded the NEAFCS Mary W. Wells Diversity Award. She also was the 2nd place Southern Regional winner at the national level.
- Hunter McBrayer and Eric Schavey, both Regional Extension Agents in home grounds and garden, won the AACAAS Search For Excellence Award in Horticulture. They were also a finalist for this award at the national level.
- The DeKalb County Master Gardeners were awarded the Alabama Master Gardener Association Search for Excellence.
- DeKalb County Extension Office was awarded the DeKalb County Governor’s Committee on the Employment of Persons with Disabilities Collaboration Award.
We look forward to another successful year with our friends at the Arc of DeKalb Resident Homes!