Glenwood Life Counseling Center hosted its annual Juneteenth celebration, which normally commemorates the end of American slavery in 1865, in a new way this year — by also marking it as celebration of "breaking the chains" of addiction.
In addition to presenting lively music, praise dancing and food outside the center's doors Saturday, the methadone clinic and recovery center held the official ribbon-cutting for its "recovery garden," a 40-by-60-foot labor of love and metaphor for the hard work of recovery from addiction.
"It's therapeutic for recovery. It gives them a sense of responsibility, a sense of life," said Precious Fraling, a client at the center since 2010 and president of its client advocacy team.
Fraling came up with the idea in January after brainstorming new programs and events to host at the center. Staring at the two barren lots across from the center, Fraling, 38, said she knew she wanted to transform them into something beneficial for recovering addicts in Woodbourne-McCabe, a neighborhood in northeast Baltimore ravaged by drugs.
"They're getting younger and younger," she said. "It has to stop somewhere. It cannot keep passing on to generation from generation, and it starts with us."
Fraling, a Parkville resident, had never gardened before, so she sought the help of the center's clients and staff, who teamed up with the home renovation organization Rebuilding Together Baltimore to bring the garden to life.
Most of the tools and materials needed to build the garden were donated or offered at discounted prices by local retail, gardening and home improvement stores and companies. Local churches donated a $3,836, which was used to buy lumber for the flower beds, a water tank and cages for the tomato plants, Fraling said.
"It's a beautiful relationship," she said of the growing partnerships. "We're changing the stigma of how one views those in the methadone clinic. More of the community is inclined to deal with us than before."
Fraling said stereotypes about addicts being hopeless cases and with no self-respect are just misconceptions.
"I am an example that we do recover. We will recover," Fraling said. "But some people have to give us that chance."
The garden, which was planted in mid-May, will offer a smorgasbord of fruits and vegetables, including kiwis, strawberries, swiss chard, collards and turnip greens spread out in eight raised flower beds. It had to be built above ground because of lead contamination and chemicals in the soil, according to Lillian Donnard, 62, the center's executive director.
"I'm just amazed by the energy," Donnard said of the participation by the center's clients.
She said for some clients, the garden is a "metaphor of the hard work of recovery, because it doesn't ever get completely easy, just like with a garden," which requires consistent maintenance and the commitment of clients to remain sober while planting seeds and watering the garden.
The effort has already proven fruitful. Twenty-seven of the center's clients have signed up as volunteers since the garden's inception, Fraling said. And the garden itself has sprouted squash and zucchini that went into the vegetable kebabs served at Saturday's celebration.
Lisa Schaeffer, 49, a client and peer case manager, made a huge pot of collards and turnip greens from the garden for the center to enjoy last week.
"They were to die for," Fraling said. "I ate the collard greens mixed with the turnips for days. It was delicious."