Team Friends sows seeds of social inclusion with O'Hara gardening event
With more than 105 perennials planted May 2 at Lauri Ann West Community Center in O'Hara, Tim Vey lost count of how many he dug into the ground himself.
“It was a lot,” said Vey, 32, of Fox Chapel, a member of Team Friends, a nonprofit group focused on the needs of adults with intellectual disabilities. Vey was so successful, he earned the unofficial title of “garden captain.”
About 25 members learned the process of digging, planting and mulching a garden during the event aimed at giving back to the community, Team Friends founder Susan Cataldi said.
“So many times you will see people giving to people with disabilities, so I think it is very important that people with disabilities should be shown that they can give back to the community as well,” Cataldi said.
Founded in 2014, Team Friends targets the need for social inclusion of adults with intellectual disabilities after graduating high school. Retiring after 20 years as a Fox Chapel Area High School teacher, Cataldi wanted to continue to help her former students with disabilities grow.
“Even if it's just digging a hole, when they are at home they can fully participate and know that it doesn't have to be done for them,” Cataldi said.
With an event like gardening,volunteer Linda Angelo said the growth is twofold.
“I think seeing it through until the end really gives them a sense of pleasure,” Angelo said.
With help from Indiana Township-based Eichenlaub Landscaping, members worked to beautify the lawn at the community center.
For owner Dan Eichenlaub, the event is the perfect metaphor for members of Team Friends and others with intellectual disabilities.
“The clients can come back and see how these plants will grow just as they do,” Eichenlaub said.
Eichenlaub previously has sponsored the Eichenlaub Growth Awards at Fox Chapel Area High School given to special students.
“We planted a tree on the campus for them, and they could come back after they graduated to see how much it has grown,” Eichenlaub said.
Team Friends meets once a month and plans events that connect members to the community. Last month, they cooked and shared a meal at the Community United Methodist Church in Aspinwall. Through the summer, they plan a trip to Kennywood and to a Pirates game.
Vey said he earned the captain's title because of his love of plants and his experience as a landscaper.
“My favorite part is definitely the mulching,” he said.
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.