NORFOLK, Va. – Aug. 28, 2008 – Like many children with disabilities, Amelia had never experienced the simple childhood pleasure of swaying back and forth on a swing beneath the summer sun.

Amelia and the other children and young adults who live at St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children now can play on a specially designed swing set and enjoy more opportunities to explore the outdoors for fun and therapeutic recreation because of the efforts of parents and garden clubs and other organizations to transform the Home’s grounds – a $65,000 project paid for by donations.

St. Mary’s Home will open its newly furbished gardens, courtyards and playground to the public on Sunday, Sept. 7, from 2:00-4:00 p.m., with an official ribbon cutting at 2:45 p.m. and remarks by Betsy Agelasto, director at large of the Garden Club of Virginia, and Amelia’s mother, Myra Perdue.

The dedication event includes gardening and outdoor activities for children: creating bird feeders, plant identification stakes, wind chimes and sun catchers, and embarking on a scavenger hunt throughout the newly designed areas featuring beds of flowering plants and trees, fountain grasses, walkways and sensory and butterfly gardens. Children of all ages and abilities are welcome.

St. Mary’s Home, the only pediatric long-term-care residential facility of its kind in Virginia, moved in 2005 from downtown Norfolk to its present 88,000-square-foot facility off Interstates 264/64. The new facility included a playground but parents and staffers wanted to make it more functional for St. Mary’s children and young adults, who have severe disabilities. They sold raffle tickets to raise $1,600 to begin revamping the playground, jump-starting other renovations.

The playground courtyard has been re-installed with shade structures and additional equipment that children with disabilities, as well as their friends and siblings, can enjoy. The main piece of equipment is a Sway Fun, a glider that accommodates two children in wheelchairs and several friends and creates a gentle swaying motion as the children are rocked back and forth.

“My daughter has never been able to sit on a swing set because of her lack of head control,” said Amelia’s mother, Myra Perdue, who lives in Yorktown, Va. “This is the first time in her life – and she’s 15 – that she can be on any type of swing. It sways back and forth, and she’s still in her wheelchair, so she’s very comfortable. She can just sit back and enjoy life.”

Other fun items include bubble mirrors, chimes, concave mirrors and a bench perfectly sized for children. This major project was made possible through grants from Ronald McDonald House Charities, the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Eastern Virginia, Chartway Federal Credit Union’s We Promise Foundation and the Virginia Beach Foundation.

Since fall of 2007, St. Mary’s staffers have been working with a number of garden clubs to enhance the Home’s landscaping. The Junior Virginia Beach Garden Club sponsored an inner courtyard that has been turned into a Sensory Garden, with Lamb’s ear, lavender and rosemary and other plants that appeal to the senses and a limestone fountain that sends down a continuous column of water.

The Junior Virginia Beach Garden Club also paid for hydrangea, hostas, hinoke cypress, river birches and other plants in the Statuary Garden where the sculpture “Sede Sapientia” (Seat of Wisdom) now stands. Norfolk artist Josef Orsolya, a native of Hungary, created the sculpture in 1953. The sculpture was moved from St. Mary’s former location and re-installed by fine art conservator Andrew Baxter with Bronze et al, Ltd., of Richmond, Va.  Tribute bricks and benches, some in memory of former residents of St. Mary’s, line the walkway.

Thanks to another club, the Virginia Beach Garden Club, St. Mary’s front entrance has become a park with 22 flowering apricot and Okame cherry trees lining the main walkway, seven river birches and a new cul de sac walkway. More than 100 day lilies, Knock Out roses, black-eyed Susans and ice plants have been planted under each of the walkway’s trees. Children with their families can sit on benches for extended visits.

The Home’s Girl Scout Troop 5067 created St. Mary’s Butterfly Garden last year. This year, the Harborfront Garden Club in Norfolk took on the garden as a project. Working with the Scouts, club members dug up plants from their own gardens and arrived one day at the Home with wheelbarrows filled with  herbs, verbena, lantana, Mexican heather and other plants that attract butterflies and caterpillars that will shortly bring forth new butterflies, much to the Scouts’ delight. Plans to expand the Butterfly Garden with waterfalls, a fish pond and wheelchair-accessible walkways are under review.

“The children really enjoy being able to spend time outside, and the gardens and playground allow them to be in a park-like setting surrounded by lovely plants without having to spend time traveling,” said William C. Giermak, CEO of St. Mary’s Home. “We thank everyone who helped make these gardens, courtyards and playground a reality.”

For reservations to the dedication, please call Diane Zinn at (757) 622-2208 ext. 328.

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