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A Patch of Green

Girl Scout creates garden for senior center.

When most high schoolers contemplate ways to spend their spring weekends, manual labor does not cross their minds. However, for Lake Braddock Secondary junior Melissa Moreland, hours of digging, planting and hauling were a weekly occurrence. Melissa, a junior at Lake Braddock Secondary, chose to create a reflection garden at Sunrise Assisted Living in Springfield for her Girl Scout gold project, which is the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve.

"I thought a garden would be a neat idea, and a retirement home would probably appreciate it," Melissa said. Sunrise, only minutes from Melissa's home, was a natural choice. So, while her contemporaries were sleeping in, Melissa was using hundreds of donated plants, four tons of rock dust, and 76 hours of her free time to turn Sunrise's backyard into a garden. She also found time to attend dance class and piano lessons, all while making the honor roll.

Barbara Hunter, Melissa's troop leader, said that doing a gold project is difficult because of the lack of "hand-holding"; most of the work is planned and executed by the Girl Scout. "It takes a lot of maturity and a lot of leadership," Hunter said. "I told (my Girl Scouts) that they had better find something that they have a passion about."

For Melissa, that passion was gardening. "Since Melissa's been old enough to walk, she's been planting flowers with me," said Michelle Schmith, Melissa's mother.

"The backyard wasn't very pretty before; it was kind of neglected," said Karen Pino-Salazar, the activities and volunteer coordinator for Sunrise. She acted as the liaison between Sunrise and Melissa. "Now it's much more welcoming. Melissa's project was such a great gift to us." Pino-Salazar said.

Inspired by Melissa's project, the Sunrise staff is making the backyard garden a new focus of the facility. "We're expanding the fence so that (the garden) is more accessible to all the residents," said Pino-Salazar. "We're also planning on making a garden of our own back there, and starting a garden club."

The residents of Sunrise welcomed the reflection garden with open arms. "You could tell they really loved it." Melissa said. One resident uses the garden path that Melissa built as a racetrack for her motorized wheelchair. The garden has even begun attracting walkers from around the neighborhood. Also, Sunrise's wing for residents with dementia has a view of the reflection garden, so for those who cannot go outside, "it's really nice for them to have something pretty to look out at," Melissa said.