A Time to Plant

Memorial Day weekend: finally the garden is in. I’m late planting this year – normally the target is mid-May.

I’ve had a vegetable garden since I was a young boy. It was inspired by my friend’s mother. One day Skip and I were weeding her garden. She came out with a shovel, dug up a clump of rhubarb and wrapped it in newspaper. “Richard,” she said, “now you can start your very own garden.” Nearly sixty years later I’m still grinning. When Skip comes to visit, we lean on the fence, near the stand of rhubarb I’ve transplanted here, and reminisce about the gardens of our youth. We’ve kept them nourished, both the plants and the friendship. They continue to grow.

I am at peace when I work in the garden. Kneeling in the warm dirt, amid the fragrance of tomato vines, I contemplate life, its blessings and burdens. The blessings seem to multiply, the burdens become less. It’s also a great catalyst. Often a stranger will walk by my garden which is situated beside the road, and will then stop and comment. I listen. There is a mutual appreciation in the growing of sustenance. How quickly strangers become friends.

Early spring, while I walked behind and the tiller blades churned the rested soil, I thought of the season to come. My mind also traveled to the beginning stages of another endeavor – GiGi’s Playhouse. I’ve been instrumental with helping to establish this organization in New York City. Like the garden, the Playhouse is also in the early phase of the season. GiGi’s Playhouse is a Down syndrome awareness and activity center. We are a nonprofit and just starting to grow. Let your friends and neighbors know we are here.

Building the Playhouse has been very much a parallel cycle of the garden. We’ve found a nice sunny spot, just above Central Park at 106 West 117th Street in Harlem. We’ve had help in “tilling the soil”; many hands have toiled with painting and cleaning and building. Most importantly, there’s a reliable “water source.” Many have donated funds that will help ensure an ample supply for the future. Water is a constant worry for gardeners – likewise funds for nonprofits.

Now, in the garden here at home and at GiGi’s, we are in the season of planting. Tiny seeds, larger ones, seedlings and some transplants. All are placed lovingly, one by one, into the warm earth. Some are in rows, others grow best in patches. There will be bushes and vines. Soon the leafy green abundance will be dotted with color. Each fruit will be different, each maturing in its own time – they will all be precious gifts.

We began planting early this year at GiGi’s. Did you know that peas can be planted as the snow flies? During March we “planted” some basics: Sunday Brunch – Open House, Wednesday Family Pizza Night, Open Play. It was a busy time and we were still getting some of the garden prepared. We’re ready now – and the weather has warmed up.

We’ve all worked together and you’ve told us some of what you want planted. GiGi’s garden is no longer bare soil. Since April many spaces have been filled in, leaving enough room for each program to spread out and grow. Only the best seeds have been chosen: Sabrina’s Music Class, Lisa’s Physical Therapy Groups, Stacey’s New Parent Support Group, Liza’s Adaptive Dance. The Story Pirates visited and developed our children’s stories into a professional production. An enlightening lecture series has begun. To date we’ve featured Emily Perl Kingsley of Sesame Street fame and author of Welcome To Holland; Kirsten DeBear, NYC’s renowned OT and author of Toby and Tutter, Therapy Dogs (she is also presenting a stellar series of talks on brain development – check the calendar). On Wednesday, June 13 we had a Book Talk with Amy Julia Becker, author of A Good and Perfect Gift. Look to our website www.gigisplayhouse.org/newyork for more detailed information and to make a donation. Remember, our programs are free, we need your support.

And so much more has been planted. GiGi’s Board of Directors has expanded, new benefactors are stepping forward, our volunteer base is increasing. We are networking with all the Down syndrome community organizations, making alliances with colleges and institutions. Many of you joined our ten delegates at the first celebration of World Down Syndrome Day at the UN. In mid-July will be joining many of you in attending the National Down Syndrome Congress in Washington, DC. We will be lobbying on the Hill for our children’s rights!

Some very exciting news! We will soon implement our Literacy Program. Nancy Gianni, the founder of GiGi’s Playhouse will be in town to initiate it. Save Wednesday, June 20th for the “meet and greet” at 5:30 – welcome Nancy and the rest of the National team and find out how your child can benefit from our one-to-one weekly literacy and math tutoring programs.

And teenagers, we have saved a very special place in the garden for you. Have patience, the soil is almost ready. How naive of me to ask a teenager to have patience – but it’s what we do in the garden. We work, then we wait and see, all the while tending and nurturing.

Gardeners are a social lot. We share tips with each other, what works, what doesn’t. Too much sun? Too little? More water? Less? And we visit and admire each other’s gardens. For me, one of the best times of the season is the sharing of the harvest. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, basil will be made into a sauce. Sugar pumpkins will be rendered down for dozens of pies. Our harvest becomes special gifts for special people. Come late July and August, Marilee and I will share our garden’s bounty at the Playhouse.

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