Group home residents blossom by growing poinsettias


By John Gordon
United Methodist News Service

SENATOBIA — Bright poinsettia plants, a favorite symbol of Christmas, are not all that grow inside the greenhouses at the Baddour Center.

Residents of the group home for mentally challenged adults find growth within themselves as they carefully cultivate thousands of plants, which are sold to churches, businesses and homes throughout Mississippi and Tennessee.

"Makes me feel real good," says David Holland, who has lived at the Baddour Center for 23 years. "I know that I've done a job and got the job done right."

Indeed, the motto of the Baddour Center's horticulture program is, "Growing people with plants." The center raises and sells about 9,000 poinsettia plants every Christmas.

Proceeds from the sale of the plants help support the operation of the Baddour Center, a health and welfare ministry of the United Methodist Church's Mississippi Annual Conference. But the horticulture operation is also part of something with even deeper roots: plant therapy.

"They come here and they work and they have a sense of accomplishment," explains Wes Pittman, director of the center's horticulture program. 

"They can see a plant that's mature and grown and they're happy that they can do that, like we all are happy whenever we accomplish a task," he says.

Growing poinsettias can be tricky — not a job for the amateur gardener. Seedling plants usually arrive in late July or early August. 

"I water them and fertilize them. It takes a lot of work," says Baddour resident Bill Watts.

During October, the plants require total darkness. Even outside security lights are turned off.

Then they begin taking on their distinctive red, white and pink colors. It takes four to five months for the plants to reach maturity, and they are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Shannon Kim, director of education and research at the Baddour Center, can see a difference in residents who grow plants.  She is also conducting research studies on the benefits.

"As you are involved with something, you grow together with that thing," she says. "So they are growing plants, and they are also growing as a person."

The Baddour Center delivers poinsettias by the truckload to churches, garden centers and businesses. They are also sold at Baddour's retail garden center on the grounds of the group home, which sits on a 120-acre campus. The center houses 170 residents, with an average age of 43.

Viola Graham came to the Baddour Center 25 years ago after having a difficult time in high school. "They thought I was … stupid," Graham says.

But now Graham waters, fertilizes and sprays the poinsettias and checks them for insects.  Then she helps package them and fills orders during the holiday season.

"It makes me feel real happy to … be doing all of this here for a whole lot of people and a whole lot of churches," she says.

Helping residents develop their talents and abilities is an important mission, according to Parke Pepper, administrator at the Baddour Center.

"Our folks often have either talents or abilities that I would say surpass the talents and abilities of many others," Pepper says.  "And we just have to help find what that is, as with anyone, and help them recognize that and develop it and take time to celebrate it."

Some commercial nurseries automate watering and other parts of the cultivation process.  But Pittman, the head of the horticulture program, is concerned automation could take away jobs from Baddour residents.

"It's not always about the bottom line," Pittman says. "Our goal is helping these people."

And Baddour Center resident Gale Guynes knows the satisfaction of a job well done.

"It makes me happy, knowing that I do the best I can to the best of my ability," she says.  "I always hope that it makes them happy knowing that they get them from up here at the garden