Perkins School for the Blind

Image of Perkins eLearning Portal LogoAlma mater of Anne Sullivan and her student, Helen Keller

Deborah Krause, horticultural therapist at the Perkins School for the Blind in Boston, always knew she wanted to use her horticultural skills and knowledge to help others. She says she is rewarded every time she sees young hands reach out to touch or smell a flower for the first time.

Established in 1829, the Perkins School for the Blind is the oldest school for the blind in the United States and the Alma mater of Anne Sullivan and her student, Helen Keller. Horticultural therapy began there in 1979 as a part-time pilot program (students had been involved in gardening and animal husbandry in the past). It quickly became a national model and with the 2003 establishment of its Thomas & Bessie Pappas Horticulture Center, Perkins continues to move forward with innovative plant-oriented programs that include science classes, garden and greenhouse experience, and learning vocational skills, such as making gifts, wreaths, herbal teas and potpourri.

Even the most disabled students can help water seedlings and transplant cuttings. These activities are a tremendous esteem boost to students who have spent a lifetime receiving care, letting them offer care and nurturing. The Perkins Spring Flower Show–with categories such as “Plants Grown from Seed” and “Fresh Flower Vase Arrangements”–highlights the students’ achievements for their families, friends and the local community and exemplifies the school’s slogan, “All we see is possibility.”

At the Western Blind Rehabilitation Center at the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital in Palo Alto, California, an herb garden project allows students to practice the independent living skills they are learning at the residential training program. They plant, tend, cultivate and harvest herbs that they use to flavor oils and vinegars, which they bottle, label and sell to raise funds for their recreation budget.

Jerry Duncan, the creative arts therapist assigned to the blind center, and Jane Phillips, project organizer, report that three alumni of the center have used their herb gardening experience to help others in their communities after leaving the center. One gardens with inner city children in Ohio; a second gardens with a mission project in South Africa; and a third generates income by selling homegrown herbs to area restaurants. As blind people who have used gardens to help themselves now use them to help others develop their potential, seeds of hope for the future continue to grow.

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