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Town’s Program for Volunteers with Special Needs Helps Everyone Grow at Clark Botanic Garden
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Town’s Program for Volunteers with Special Needs Helps Everyone Grow at Clark Botanic Garden

North Hempstead, NY – Every Wednesday at around 10:30 a.m. an enthusiastic group of volunteers arrive at North Hempstead’s Clark Botanic Garden in Albertson. These volunteers are part of a new program instituted this summer that gives individuals with vision and hearing loss and those with intellectual disabilities, a chance to volunteer in the 12-acre garden. The program is the first of its kind in the Town.

“This new program is such a meaningful way to integrate enthusiastic and capable adults with disabilities into our community,” said Supervisor Judi Bosworth. “These volunteers bring such a wonderful energy to our lovely botanic garden and we all learn from each other. Here in the garden it’s all about their abilities, not their disabilities.”

A Day in Life of a Disabled Volunteer at Clark Garden
A group of about a dozen volunteers from Human First of Little Neck arrive by bus from their Lynbrook office and they’re eager to get to work. Kevin Doolin, a Parks Department employee at Clark who initiated and oversees the program, is there to greet the volunteers and hand out assignments, as well as rakes, buckets and trowels.

Along with the Human First volunteers, Rona Von Mering, an adult student from the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults in Sands Point, also arrives at the Garden to lend her gardening skills.

Rona, who Deaf-blind, is a Master Gardener. She is accompanied by her instructor Nadea Armogan, who uses tactile sign language to communicate with Rona throughout the day. Rona loves to weed and distinguishes weeds from desirable flowering plants by using her senses of touch and smell. Today she is working on clearing a meandering path of weeds, along the herb garden.

Through her instructor, Rona said that she got her love of gardening and playing in the dirt from her grandfather, who was a farmer. Rona also creates pottery.

“As in instructor at HKNC, I have found my biggest inspiration to be my students,” said Armogan. “They work to overcome the challenge of living with a combined vision and hearing loss, and the results of their success are truly amazing. Students like Rona help to spread Deaf-blind awareness by going into the community and demonstrating their skills, abilities, and independence. Clark Gardens has been wonderful in working with us and providing the appropriate accommodations for Rona. They are always looking out for Rona and willing to learn more about our students. We feel very welcomed here.”

Volunteer Wally Kupferberg, 89, arrives at Clark Botanic Garden with his aide Evelyn Garza. Wally has been a gardener all his life, but now lives in an assisted living facility in nearby Little Neck. Although he may not be considered a volunteer with a disability, he says his offer to volunteer had been turned down numerous times from other parks because of his age. But Doolin saw Wally’s potential and was willing to put him to work pruning shrubs and trees around the garden. Evelyn says that since Wally’s wife Goldie died this April, he has been a bit lost, but that this volunteering opportunity is the highlight of his week. This particular morning Wally works on deadheading some hydrangeas over in the shady section of the garden.

Other volunteers like Orcella Sutherland and Denise Leung from Human First, get to work right away, raking leaves and debris and placing it into plastic trash barrels. Doolin, a gregarious man, keeps the conversation flowing and sprinkles it with words of encouragement and praise as he supervises the volunteers. The birds chirp; the sun shines down warming the earth and the air is sweetly scented with blossoms. Everyone seems happy to be there.

Deirdre Schnabl, Human First’s Day Hab Coordinator, said "The true desire of our individuals is to make an impact in their community - to become contributing members of society and to have a social role. Building their skills with Clark Botanical Garden leads to other opportunities for volunteerism and employment, which improves their quality of life. Human First, Inc. provides the platform for this - breaking down barriers and building relationships."

"From the second you walk into Clark Garden its beauty hits all your senses,” said Doolin. “This garden's spirit has no boundaries and neither should the volunteer program that serves it. I knew Supervisor Bosworth would want us to ensure every person that wants to make this garden even more glorious for the residents have the opportunity to do just that, so when I got the call from Wally's daughter that he was in search of a garden to volunteer at, I told her to bring him down - and just like that the Garden the program blossomed from there!"

Around Noon, the volunteers head to the Clark House, where they are treated to a well-earned lunch-pizza, donated by Vincent’s Pizzeria of Carle Place.

“It’s such an uplifting experience to spend some time with the volunteers as they connect with nature and devote their time to serving their community,” said Supervisor Bosworth. “Their enthusiasm is contagious and they really deserve credit with making the garden look its best.”

“We’re so excited to support stewardship of Clark Botanic Garden and welcome volunteers to do a variety of tasks, from school groups clearing the ponds of vegetation, to Eagle Scouts who restore the wooden bridges to our Wednesday groups who assist with planting, weeding and raking,” said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jill Weber.

Anyone wishing to volunteer in Clark or any other park, please contact 311.

Supervisor Bosworth speaks to volunteer Wally Kupferberg.

Volunteers from Human First take a break from their gardening at Clark Botanic Garden.

Volunteers from Human First tackle their raking with enthusiasm.

Supervisor Bosworth meets volunteer Rona Von Mering, who is Deaf-Blind and helps to weed the garden each week.


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