A Little Slice of Paradise on Cedar Street

Have you seen the green garden of paradise on the corner of Cedar Street and 35th? Here is our story….

If you are walking along the sidewalk that lines Cedar Street and pass the corner at 35th Street on weekday morning, you might be interested in the group of elderly men and women sitting together in the yard, under the trellised roof of a wooden gazebo. They sit at the south end of the sprawling fenced lawn, at one corner of the historic AGE Building. Birds chirp overhead, the morning air is cool and the sun is shining.   The serenity is infectious and it is easy to smile as a wave from one of these older folks comes your way. Also noticeable is the size, almost 3,000 square feet, and the beauty of the yard.  There are potted plants, colorful blooms, looming sunflowers, birdbaths that adorn the yard.  A manicured pathway leads to a secluded meditation garden on the side of the building.

The elderly folks sitting outside are members of AGE of Central Texas Adult Day Health Center (Elderhaven), one of two adult day centers in Central Texas. The AGE building is the center’s home.  Members are picked up by the AGE van or brought by their family members during the weekdays. Many are working caregivers and need a place to bring their parents, grandparents, or spouses during the day so that they are safe, healthy, happy, and stimulated. AGE of Central Texas Adult Day Health Centers provides these things so that older people, and those with dementia and other disabilities, do not need to go into nursing home care prematurely, but can instead remain with their families and in their communities.

Since AGE adopted the adult day center from Lutheran Social Services in the late 1980’s, community groups, churches, schools and corporations have come to AGE for volunteer projects.  Here they have donated time and money to the garden efforts, while working together in team-building activities to enhance and improve the grounds and the experiences of the members of the adult day center. Volunteers from St. David’s Foundation, Promiseland Baptist Church, and the Eagle Scouts, to name just a few, have contributed hours of time to weeding the garden beds, watering the plants, and planting new life in the gardens.

Community support is not new to AGE, but something very special began to unfold in the fall of 2011: a synchronicity in the vision, dedication, and financial support of a number of individuals and groups that brought about the planning and implementation of a multiphase habitat project which would beautify the garden and create a certified wildlife habitat.

As the program director of the Adult Day Center in Central Austin, Stephanie Hoffman has always remained attentive to the things that make her members happy.  One day in the fall of 2011, she noticed that a few of her members had been particularly fixated on the lone birdhouse by a wall at the exterior of the building. “I thought that we needed more birdhouses, something that is going to stimulate clients emotionally and cognitively,” she remembers. When Hoffman received a phone call from a representative from the City of Austin LEAPS (Leadership Education Public Service) program a few weeks later asking for ideas for a project that they could plan as a group, she suggested building birdhouses.

Representatives from Urban Habitat Committee of the Travis Audubon Society, with offices located in the AGE Building, had for some time worked near the garden and taken notice of the environment, and they began to become involved in discussions about garden projects. According to Hoffman, it was in these first conversations that the question was asked, “What is it going to take for us to have a certified habitat?”

As these individuals and their respective organizations, including folks from the City of Austin Parks and Wildlife Department, began to create the habitat plan at the end of 2011, there were several central factors that guided the discourse and planning. Building an environmentally sustainable and economically sensible habitat meant that native Texas plants were chosen. Careful consideration of the four factors that the National Wildlife Federation looks for in certifying a habitat (providing food, water, shelter, and a place for raising young) influenced everything from the selection of the berry bushes to the placement of birdhouses.  At the forefront of the planning was always the positive impact of the environment on the older adults who attend the adult day center. Lynn Hill, one of the Urban Habitat Committee members leading the project said, “My mother lives in a retirement home in Michigan and it is beautifully landscaped, and I know that means so much to the residents to have a beautiful place to be.”

With the leadership of the Travis Audubon Society, the LEAPS program, the City of Austin Parks and Recreation department and numerous local businesses, individuals, corporations and community groups who donated plants, supplies and labor, Phase One and most of Phase Two have been completed, and an application for certification to the National Wildlife Federation has been submitted. Phase Three of the plan will create garden beds and habitats in other areas around the AGE Building. Adult Day Center members have been directly involved, helping to paint ceramic plant markers for the over 35 species of native Texas plants that occupy the beds.   Meredith O’Reilly, the Urban Habitat Steward who led the plant marker project, described the activity, “It was an absolute pleasure to see the smiles and artistic talents of the AGE clients who created very special and purposeful art for the garden.”

AGE of Central Texas opened its Adult Day Health Center garden for families on the last Wednesday of the month in May for the first-ever Concert for Caregivers, and there are plans to bring City of Austin Park Rangers to the gardens to engage members in activities related to wildlife. Anybody strolling through the neighborhood will continue to see these older folks outside engaged in discussion groups and enjoying the weather, amidst the flittering of butterflies and chirping of birds that will keep growing around them.

– Written by Amanda Lyles, AGE’s Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator.

Originally published by Austin Parks and Recreation in the July issue of their monthly newsletter, the ‘Habitat Herald’.

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