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Garden Gives Spice to Lives of Brain-Injured Accident Survivors

October 22, 1989|TEDDY COLBERT | Colbert is a Los Angeles free-lance writer. and

There is a very special garden in Long Beach.

But it's not the garden itself--designed as a traditional English knot garden--that's so special. Nor is it the location--a commercial area where Spring Street meets Long Beach Boulevard in Long Beach.

It's the gardeners--the 10-member "Green Team"--that make this demonstration plot for Rosemary Clooney's Herbs such a special place.

The "Green Team" gardeners, nine men and one woman, are all survivors of brain injuries suffered in auto, motorcycle, bicycle and other accidents. Their gardening is part of their rehabilitation to overcome varying degrees of limited motor activity and short-term memory loss. They wear green T-shirts and baseball caps, all labeled "Chief."

The work of the Green Team begins with seed propagation and seedling transplanting in the nursery and includes soil preparation, planting, irrigation and weeding. It culminates with harvesting, display and sale of the crops from the garden and another one nearby.

Chris (Sammy) Samuelson, 25, was a house framer until three years ago, when he was injured in a car accident. Now he is assistant manager of the Country Store, adjacent to the garden, and shares responsibility for cashiering, inventory and sales.

A walker helps him get around the store or to the potting area, where he also lends a hand. To relieve stress, Sammy will take a break and hitch a ride into the garden on a flat cart. Monsieur Gaston, the gardeners' French poodle mascot, often tags along.

Sammy shows his organizational skills in tracking inventory, and a marketing talent that springs from pride in his product.

At lunch, he poked the salad made with their fresh lettuces and herbs. "Where else around here can people buy this kind of fresh-out-of-the-garden stuff?" he asked. "I have a brochure in mind to put in dry-cleaner stores, Laundromats, car washes. . . . I want to let people know about us."

Tiffany Wagoner, 18, another member of the Green Team, shares Sammy's position in the store. Her progress since she was hit in a crosswalk six years ago now reveals an artistic ability that shows itself in the refrigerated display case of the garden's crops: basil sprigs nestle between red tomatoes, fuzzy cucumber leaves contrast with slick purple eggplants and yellow squash blossoms set off young green zucchinis.

The garden is part of the Betty Clooney Center, which opened last year and is a part of the Betty Clooney Foundation for Persons With Brain Injury, founded by singer Rosemary Clooney who named it after her sister.

Rosemary Clooney gained an acute awareness of brain injury with Betty Clooney's death from an aneurysm in 1977. That awareness was heightened two years later when a distant relative, Sandy Holvey, suffered a brain injury in a water-skiing accident.

During Holvey's rehabilitation, Clooney became aware that affordable long-term programs were virtually nonexistent in this country. She decided to do something about the unmet need and formed the Clooney foundation.

Today, Sandy Holvey leads tours of the Betty Clooney Center and is one of 120 center members, who come voluntarily for rehabilitation, support and company. About 56 members come each day. The age range is from 19 to 42 years, the average age is 25; 20% of the members are women.

Work in Four Programs

The center's goal is to help its members, with the support of staff, to acquire skills that will help them toward independence in the work community.

Each member must work in one of four center programs: Rosemary Clooney's Herbs, which incorporates two gardens and the Country Store; the communications program, which trains members in clerical work, telephone, office functions and newsletter publishing, and the maintenance program, which teaches janitorial and repair jobs.

The fourth program, and the only one not funded by the state Department of Rehabilitation, is Cafe Clooney, an in-house restaurant/snack bar that utilizes adaptive devices such as a one-handed can opener to assist member workers.

Linking the four divisions is a recreational plan that provides companionship and a sense of community that, according to Executive Director Cathy DeMello, the members find lacking in their lives.

The garden project began last year on a one-third acre plot on Spring Street behind the center leased from California Edison Co. The Jesse M. Unruh Foundation provided start-up capital of $85,651, and last February the growing business began. Later, a nearby three-quarter acre plot off Pasadena Avenue loaned by Long Beach Memorial Hospital was added.

Seasonal Specialties

Now, in the Country Store from Monday through Friday and the open market on Wednesday and Friday, the pungent aroma of just-picked basil tempts cooks to look up their pesto recipes. Also on sale are oregano, tarragon, rosemary and other herbs.

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