A Fruitful Partnership

It started with Lawton Snyder, Eye & Ear Foundation CEO, and Carrie Fogel, EEF Senior Director of Development, Corporate and Foundation Relations, meeting with Rachelle Rechtenwald and Dr. Heidi Ondek at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children about ways to collaborate.

Since the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children has horticulture incorporated in their curriculum, they wondered if it would be possible to have the students and staff help with the gardens and landscaping of the Bruce and Barbara Wiegand Roof Terrace, and the Rehabilitation Gardens, at the newly built Vision Institute.

Snyder and Fogel reached out to Roberta Kiefer, Manager of BMS Grounds at UPMC. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from UPMC to make this collaboration as success.

“This was a natural next step for our young adults and graduates,” said WPSBC Assistant Superintendent Dr. Rachelle Rectenwald. She described the collaboration as wonderful. “UPMC has gone above and beyond our wildest expectations,” she added.

The children and staff designed, planted, and will help maintain a portion of the gardens, plantings, and floral arrangements at the UPMC Mercy Pavilion, with the help of Debbie Frank, who directs WPSBC’s horticulture therapy program.

Before the end of the school year in June, the students came to plant, water, and weed. They planted flowers in large quadrants so the high contrast would be visible to those with vision impairments. They also planted sensory-stimulating plants like lavender, rosemary, and lemon-scented geranium.

“Students love the project, which is evident whenever you admire the joy on their faces for their participation and success,” Dr. Rectenwald said.

Some of the students in the adult program will come throughout the summer to maintain the planters that they already started. Beyond the summer, students will design other items for the Vision Institute, like potted plants, sensory boxes, and seasonal arrangements.

This partnership will clearly bear fruit for years to come.