A love of gardening, a love for people


April 22, 1999|By Diane Mikulis | Diane Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

GINNY MATTHIAS of Glenelg loves her work. It combines her hobby -- gardening -- with her former profession, counseling. But most important, what she does makes a difference in the lives of other people.

Matthias works in horticultural therapy which, as she explains it, means "using plants in a therapeutic way."

She runs gardening programs for senior citizens at St. Ann Adult Services and St. Elizabeth Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, both in Catonsville, as well as several retirement communities.

"It's all about connecting with people," Matthias said. Gardening, she says, involves touch, sight, smell -- and even taste. Actively using these senses benefits many older people, especially those with dementia.

In her program at St. Elizabeth, Matthias works with residents of Noah's Place, a live-in program for individuals with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. During the colder months, they make floral arrangements and grow plants indoors in specially built portable beds.

Whenever the weather permits, Matthias takes her group outdoors to a courtyard garden with a beautiful view of the Baltimore skyline.

On a recent sunny but breezy morning, Noah's Place resident Mary O'Neal enthusiastically weeded and tilled the soil in a raised planter in the courtyard. With a little guidance from Matthias, she planted marigolds, snapdragons and squash.

O'Neal thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing.

A little later, Arthur Deuchler and Rita Neville, also Noah's Place residents, came out to water the plants.

Matthias and the residents will continue caring for the garden and will harvest the vegetables. Matthias developed her love of gardening in her mother's English-style perennial garden in Frederick. After her parents passed away seven years ago, she took responsibility for the garden.

For five years, she traveled from Glenelg to Frederick to keep it up.

"It is a beautiful garden with a little bench," Matthias said. "I would sit on the bench and feel that I could relate to my mother through the garden. It was my way of healing."

At the time, Matthias worked as an employment counselor for the disabled. One day in a conversation with someone from the American Horticultural Therapy Association, she learned there was a job opening in the organization that suited her.

"I knew I was interested in how people connect with plants, and this opening came up," she said. Matthias went to work for AHTA in 1992, administering two federal grants that provided funds for businesses to hire individuals with disabilities for horticultural positions.

Nearly five years ago, Matthias brought her love of people and gardening together and began working at St. Elizabeth.

Scott Jaudon, director of community relations at St. Elizabeth, said that many of the residents grew up in agrarian communities, and the gardening they do now helps them reach back to those times.

Of Matthias, he said, "She has brought in so many resources. The work she does helps reduce agitation in people with Alzheimer's. Gardening is all about sensory perception -- things they can touch and smell and see."

Matthias plans to continue her work with elderly populations. Three years ago, she received a geriatric certificate from the University of Maryland to augment her master's degree in counseling. She hopes to become a certified horticultural therapist.

"I want to keep working with the elderly," she said. "I really like being outside with them and working with plants. There are just so many benefits."

New Eagle Scout

Noud VanStekelenburg of Boy Scout Troop 737 in Clarksville has achieved the rank of Eagle Scout.

His Eagle project involved rebuilding a garden for senior citizens in Columbia. Noud supervised a crew of seven other Scouts who worked a combined total of 150 hours over a two-week period last summer.

They removed underbrush, weeds and roots, tilled soil and built a strong fence to keep out wildlife.

Noud wrote a report on his project and went before the Eagle Board, which interviewed him about the effort as well as his other experiences as a Scout.

He received a medal in an Eagle Court of Honor.

His parents, Mark and Mirjam VanStekelenburg, received Eagle pins.

"It's a great feeling," Noud said. "After five years of hard work, I achieved the top -- the pinnacle of my Boy Scout career."

Noud is a senior at Mount Saint Joseph High School in Baltimore, where he has played football and has been named one of the 25 best football players in Maryland. He received scholarship offers from the Naval Academy and West Point.

In June, he will report to the Naval Academy.

Noud lives near West Friendship.

Spring concert

River Hill High School invites the public to its Spring Concert at 7: 30 p.m. today in the school auditorium.

The school's instrumental and choral groups -- including the Jazz Ensemble, Orchestra, Blue Grass Band, Wind Ensemble, Madrigal Singers and Concert Choir -- will perform.

Tickets are $3. The school is at 12101 Route 108 in Clarksville.

Information: 410-313-6927.

At Mount View Middle

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