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Element Care, Mill City Grows Celebrate Partnership for Seniors

October 7, 2018

Lowell Sun

LOWELL -- A vegetable garden still ripening with tomatoes, peppers and cilantro awaited those who stepped out on to the roof of 166 Central St. on Wednesday morning.

About 50 guests were on hand to help Element Care celebrate its partnership with Mill City Grows and cut the ribbon on its newest offering for seniors.

Element Care, based in Lynn, operates eight centers in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore providing health services for seniors who meet income and heath criteria.

Its other facilities offer gardening opportunities for clients, but a three-story Victorian Gothic building downtown provided a challenge and the rooftop space provided the answer.

Activities Director Laura Wilcox says her team worked with the rehabilitation team and Mill City Grows to determine was feasible to do in a space exposed to high summer temperatures and lots of direct sunlight.

About 15 to 20 seniors spent summer days gardening. Numbers varied depending on the weather. Some seniors can no longer garden because apartment living or physical ailments rule it out.

“You can tell who the gardeners were when we gave them a hose to work with,” Wilcox said.

Seated in walkers, three gardeners were eager to talk about their contributions to the summer’s bounty.

Joanne Holton, Mary Jo Roche and Mary Cunha all said gardening made summer fun. They came whenever weather permitted.

“I loved the garden, but I can’t do that anymore where I live,” said Holton. She planted peppers and Big Boy tomatoes, she said. Roche planted radishes and Cunha, small peppers.

The garden was designed with the needs of seniors in mind. For example, the design allowed enough space between the raised beds to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers. A patio trellis allows refuge from broiling summer weather with seating underneath to enable the gardeners to relax and chat.

Safety and comfort were the top priority, said Marketing Director Bruce Jankowitz. “We want everyone to have a good healthy workout,” he said.

Gardening helps with occupational therapy, too, according to Cely Rosario. “It helps with fine motor coordination, eye-hand coordination, strength training and cognition,” she said. For example, it allows her to monitor how well clients with dementia process and respond to instructions.

Speaking briefly at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Mayor Bill Samaras said, “Element Care is needed and necessary. It makes sure that care for seniors is good care, caring care.”

Francey Slater, a founder of Mill City Grows, praised “an amazing partnership” with Element Care.

The organization’s mission include a commitment to provide access to healthy, locally grown food. “This really embodies that mission,” she said.

Seniors can take the vegetable harvest home. Some of the harvest goes to cooking classes that Element Care offers.

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