AMES, Iowa – What started as a search for a club project to help others has become an education in community service and project management for a group of central Iowa 4-H’ers. About 20 members of the Franklin Township Happy Go Luckies 4-H Club have spent the past year coordinating the design and installation of a raised bed garden for disabled residents of a group home in Ames. This included finding grants and partners to help fund the project, and providing much of the labor for planting and maintenance.
The 4-H club members range in age from 10 to 17 and most are residents of Franklin Township in Story County, an area that includes the northern fringe of the city of Ames and the nearby Gilbert community. Officers of the group at the time of the project included Megan Nelson, president; Emily Engle, secretary, and Taylor Schwartz, treasurer. Jessica Litchfield, vice president, took on leadership of the project, which is located at Aspen House, a group residential home in north Ames.
Aspen House is a privately funded organization that serves profoundly disabled residents who are unable to live on their own, but are too old for public facilities that are available to disabled children. The facility attracted the interest of the Happy Go Luckies club because one of the residents has two siblings who have been members of the club.
Club members saw the need for landscaping shortly after construction on the home was completed, and began planning on how gardens could be created that Aspen House residents, including those confined to wheelchairs, could help maintain. They enlisted the support of faculty members in the Iowa State University landscape architecture and horticulture departments to help with the design and the Story County Master Gardeners volunteers to help with the planting. Ultimately, five different units of Iowa State University Extension were involved in this project (4-H, Agriculture and Natural Resources, Community and Economic Development, Families, and Communications).
After meeting in late 2007 with Aspen House staff members and parents of residents, 4-H club members decided to take on the project, and began looking for organizations that would assist with funding it. They worked with Susan Erickson and Heidi Hohmann in the ISU Department of Landscape Architecture and Cindy Haynes in the Department of Horticulture who assigned classes in their departments to come up with design ideas.
A landscape architecture student team that included David Locke, Nathan Dobson and Courtney Long created a raised bed garden design that would require minimal maintenance, would match design elements already in place, would include a hard surface that would easily accommodate wheel chairs, and would include 108 square feet of planting areas that could be accessed while seated.
The student team created a slide presentation with drawings of what they were proposing and the 4-H club began working with Aspen House staff members and families on how they could interact with the residents, followed by club visits to the home. In spring 2008, ISU faculty members and students met with the 4-H club to plan the tasks that would be required to install the garden and develop a list of the materials that would be needed.
A class of horticulture students enrolled in ‘Educating Youth through Horticulture’ incorporated the Aspen House project into their classroom as well. Five groups of students created themed designs for the raised bed gardens. In addition to the garden designed, educational lessons were developed for the Story County Master Gardeners to use with the 4-H club members during planting and maintenance. Designs included a salsa garden and a "secret garden." The designs incorporated opportunities for the Aspen House residents to engage their senses (sight, touch, smell, taste) and participate in maintenance of the garden.
Wet weather caused delays in completing the construction, and the planned plantings were delayed until fall. Concrete for the patio area that was part of the plan was poured during the summer, and 4-H club members also did some gardening in containers that added horticultural color and interest and arranged for the installation of a wheelchair swing as part of the project. Aspen House residents were able to enjoy the patio area and swing during the summer, but work on the construction of the flower beds did not begin until August.
While waiting for a break in the wet weather that would allow construction, members made good use of their time in seeking out donations to help finance the project. Donors included the Iowa’s Promise Youth Grant program; the Pioneer Hi-Bred International Iowa 4-H and Youth Programs Community Improvement program; the Story County 4-H Endowment Grant program; the Iowa Partners: Action for Healthy Kids YEAH! Grant program; the Capital Missions Fund of the Gilbert Lutheran Church, which contributed toward the cost of the wheelchair swing; and the Story County Master Gardeners educational garden mini-grant program.
Dean Shoemaker installed the raised bed garden. Grants acquired by the 4-H club paid for shrubbery, perennials and other plants that will be part of the garden, including a chrysanthemum display that was in place for the fall blooming season.
Six high resolution photos are available for use with this article. Captions are provided below.
This drawing prepared by students in an Iowa State University landscape architecture class shows the design for the project coordinated by the Franklin Township Happy Go Luckies 4-H Club. AH1drawing.jpg [3.8 MB]
This photo was taken at the project site before construction was started. Aspen House, a group residential home for disabled young adults, is at right. AH2before.jpg [1.5 MB]
Raised flower beds were constructed, shown here ready for planting. AH3readytoplant.jpg [1.4 MB]
Container gardening helped salvage some of the 2008 growing season which was curtailed by a wet spring. Preparing one of the planters are Franklin Township Happy Go Luckies 4-H Club president Megan Nelson and treasurer Taylor Schwartz. AH4fillingpots.jpg [1 MB]
Happy Go Luckies 4-H Club member Kelli Johnston and leader Julie Larson planting perennials. AH5workday.jpg [1.4 MB]
Despite weather delays, the raised flower bed installation at Aspen House was completed in time for fall plantings during the 2008 growing season. AH6complete.jpg [1.4MB]