Angora Gardens marks milestone
By Michael DiVittorio
Published: Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, 5:01 a.m.
What started as a place for social rehabilitation for those suffering from mental illness has become a public center for health and wellness.
Angora Gardens, a Mon Yough Community Services program based in White Oak, is marking its 25th year.
Community services officials, local leaders and invited guests celebrated the milestone on Thursday night.
“We're celebrating 25 years of family involvement,” said MYCS executive director Noreen Fredrick.
Angora Gardens, she said, “started with a dream, and really blossomed into this wonderful setting for our community and the consumers that we serve.”
White Oak Mayor Ina Jean Marton, Allegheny County Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, and state Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, presented MYCS with proclamations lauding Angora Gardens.
A slide show depicting various projects, events and activities on the grounds was played in the background as participants shared stories of their experiences.
Angora Gardens was founded in 1988 at 3 Muse Lane in White Oak Park. It was named after the therapy rabbits housed at the facility and served as a vehicle for clients to learn how to become productive members of society. Workers and clients would help care for the bunnies and use their fur to make various objects for sale.
“It was animal therapy for our consumers and then the gardening aspect also,” said longtime board member Jane Urish. “All the volunteers and the consumers worked very hard to keep it going and keep it looking good.”
Consumers would plant flowers and other vegetation around the grounds and maintained plants in a greenhouse.
The organization also survived in its early years with help from Allegheny County and the state before finding more creative revenue-generating ideas.
“As times have changed and funding has dried up and budgets have been cut, it's been a real struggle,” Urish said.
“It's really been a journey,” Fredrick said. “Our families had a vision of what they wanted to do to take care of their family members.”
The place nearly shut down because of a lack of money in 2005.
Angora Gardens formed an Advocacy Work Group that year and sought support through many donors and events such as Septemberfest, Halloween-themed Funny Fright Nights, and eventually created one of its biggest fundraisers, Autumnfest.
Those developments occurred during the tenure of therapeutic assistant and gardener Loretta Carr, who Fredrick called the “backbone” of Angora Gardens. Frederick credited her with helping the place thrive through the years.
Carr worked at Angora Gardens for 12 years before taking a position in social rehabilitation in McKeesport four years ago.
Carr deflected accolades to other workers and volunteers, stating it was a family atmosphere at the White Oak facility.
“Everybody was close knit,” Carr said.
Angora Gardens' mission shifted in 2010 to a health and wellness atmosphere. The goal of renovations was to make the site more open to the general public.
The Angora bunnies were given to a local rabbit caretaker, but they have returned for special visits, including Easter egg hunts.
The barn that housed the animals was transformed into a reception hall where free classes on nutrition, holistic health and fitness are offered.
The facilities are available for small group use and events such as company meetings and trainings, banquets, bridal showers, wedding ceremonies, fundraisers and birthday parties.
“When you worked here like I did, it's really a shock and a change,” Carr said of the changes. “It's for the good.”
More information about Angora Gardens is available online at www.mycs.org or by calling 412-675-8556.
Michael DiVittorio is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1965, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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