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Program plants a joy of gardening

By Trina Trice

Aline Cabrel has been playing in the dirt since 1985 when she became involved in the Clayton County Master Gardeners program.

The program offers volunteers not only the chance to work with flowers and plants, but to work with the mentally and physically disabled through a partnership with the Clayton County Community Center, according to Anne Harbour, master gardener.

"We work with the consumers of the Clayton Center in propagating and take care of the plants in the greenhouse," Harbour said.

The partnership began earlier this year out of a mutual need, said Melvenia Mapp, instructor at the Clayton County Community Center.

The center's consumers work with master gardener volunteers, some for pay, fulfilling duties involved with job rehabilitation, one of the center's main goals, Mapp said.

"Some (consumers) are capable of working," Mapp said. "We ask them who would like to work in the greenhouse. They work alongside (volunteers) and ask them questions. The consumers enjoy going up there."

Several consumers are tactile defensive, and working with plants is therapeutic for them.

"They don't want you to touch them or they don't touch other things," Mapp said. "But you give them a reason to want to touch the plants. They want to take care of the plants. They get used to touching things."

Other consumers with debilitating conditions such as severe mental retardation coupled with cerebral palsy benefit from working with the master gardeners because of the stimulation flowers and plants provide, Mapp said.

These kinds of tasks are very rewarding to Cabrel, a retired public health nurse.

"It's my love of flowers and growing things and my love of nursing and nurturing," Cabrel said. "I wanted to do something for (the consumers). It makes you happy knowing you contributed to making someone else happy."

To become a master gardener Cabrel and Harbour took classes facilitated by the University of Georgia and the Clayton County Extension Service. The fee for the class is $100 and participants are required to perform 50 hours of volunteer service for their first year, according to Joy Lett, horticulture program assistant.

Master gardeners work with the Reynolds Nature Preserve and have plant sales in the greenhouse. Profits from those sales benefit the center as well as the master gardener program, Harbour said.