Planting seeds, lifting spirits at Hebrew Home
At the Hebrew Home at Riverdale, a large long-term care facility on 32 lush and efficiently manicured acres, it might seem strange to hear about a garden that is purposefully tended slowly and methodically. But in the garden created by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center, the nation's first emergency elder abuse shelter, that is exactly what the gardeners are encouraged to do. These gardeners are part of two very special programs at the Hebrew Home, and the experience of working together to make things grow is fostering growth in their own lives.
Some of the gardeners are Weinberg Center clients, elder abuse victims who have fled abuse in the community for the safe haven, medical care, legal support and therapeutic environment provided at the Hebrew Home. These residents plant, water and weed side by side with high school students from Project HOPE (Healthcare Opportunities Providing Employment), a Hebrew Home program that provides at-risk youth with the opportunity to complete their education while receiving vocational training at the Hebrew Home.
While these two groups are at opposite ends of the lifecycle, they have both faced significant adversity in their lives and have much to share with one another. Sam, a teenaged boy in the HOPE program, and Rosa, a Hispanic Weinberg resident in her eighties with a dementia diagnosis, bonded over a shared love of cooking. While planting and tending the garden's herbs, they discussed the ways their harvest might flavor different dishes from their respective cultures. Sam also welcomed the opportunity to practice the Spanish he had been studying, and Rosa was happy to encourage him and teach him new words.
Rosa was a victim of elder abuse perpetrated by her son, and the Weinberg Center team worked for over a year to arrange a safe discharge back to Rosa's home in the community. When the long-awaited discharge week arrived, Sam and Rosa shared an emotional goodbye at their final gardening event together.
The Weinberg Center's garden has been far more productive than the most expertly tended garden could ever be, yielding a bountiful crop of friendship, growth and renewal for its courageous gardeners. This intergenerational horticultural therapy is part of a holistic approach to care that comes as a (literal) breath of fresh air to our residents and often has a far greater impact than anything happening within the four walls of traditional nursing home activities.
Joy Solomon is the director and managing attorney of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention.