For the residents at Artis Senior Living of Woodbury, summers will look a bit more colorful (and fragrant) courtesy of a group of local Girl Scouts.
Troop #58006 cadettes Saahithi Maddukuri (14), Kiera Potvin (13) and Penelope Rippentrop (14) completed their Girl Scout Silver Award project—two raised garden beds featuring vegetables and flowers—in June of this year with the aim to create a relaxing outdoor atmosphere for seniors.
“We wanted to make people happy and do something for the community,” says Penelope, an eighth-grade student at Oltman Middle School alongside Saahithi.
It was Saahithi’s passion for serving local seniors that led them to settle on Artis Senior Living. “My grandparents live in India, so, whenever I see a senior or someone who looks like grandparent, I always want to go hug them and meet them and talk to them, so I was thinking I want to do something that involves them,” Saahithi says. “We thought of senior homes and how we can kind of talk to them like how their grandchildren would.”
With the help of their troop, community and parent mentor (Penelope’s mother, Erin Rippentrop) the girls began planning in August 2021. They toured Artis Senior Living, presented their ideas with a slideshow and decided on a plan and budget for the project.
The staff at Artis Senior Living was immediately enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing an outdoor opportunity to residents. “We have a number of residents here that love being outdoors, gardening, being around kids, so I thought it would be a perfect way for us to all get together,” says Amber Magnuson, Artis Senior Living’s life enrichment director.
The Girl Scout Silver Award project is one of three tiers of projects—bronze, silver and gold—that participants can choose to pursue at various points in their time in Girl Scouts. The Silver Award project is open to girls at the cadette level, in grades six, seven and eight, and requires 50 hours of work per scout on a project that is sustainable (outlasting the girls’ time in scouts) and brings the community together.
Though these projects aren’t required for scouts, troop leader Moira MacKay-Brown feels passionately about the community and character-building opportunities they bring. Two other groups for Troop #58006 will soon complete their own Silver Award projects.
“I emphasized it a lot in the group just because I want the girls to make a connection with the community,” MacKay-Brown says. “The main mission [of Girl Scouts] is giving them these opportunities to be brave about trying something new and then gaining the confidence to do it again … and change the world around them.”
Fundraising was one of the most difficult parts for the girls, Erin shares. “They fundraised at a football game by offering to take pictures of families and their football players in return for donations. Flyers were used to get this message across,” Erin Rippentrop, Penelope’s mother, says.
“I definitely got out of my comfort zone,” Penelope says. “I’m pretty shy, so for me it was talking to people and meeting new people [that was difficult].”
With the help of the Woodbury community and a generous donation from Custom One Landscaping, the girls were able to extend their plans from one raised bed to two. The girls designed, built and stained the beds on their own, then journeyed to Gertens to pick out the flowers and vegetables, and a lot of dirt.
“[They] balanced having fun with getting the work done, which was really great to see,” Erin says. “I think sometimes adults forget that work can be fun.”
“This is the first collaboration that we’ve had here at Artis Senior Living with volunteers coming in and doing something for the residents,” Magnuson says. “This was a very special thing.”
When the girls arrived at the center in June, a group of residents gathered on the patio, watching them cart dirt, plants and other materials to the raised beds. “It was a lot of heavy lifting,” says Kiera, an eighth grader at Woodbury Middle School. “There was this one lady who helped fill a lot of the planters and gave us some tips on how to do it. They were smiling the entire time.”
And when the real work began, a dozen residents came to plant alongside the girls.
“It was really fun. All the older people living there were really happy to see us and helped out with planting,” Penelope says.
Saahithi fondly recalls one resident teaching her how to properly transplant the flowers into the bed. And, for Kiera, the best part was hearing the stories of the residents.
“A few of the people were kind of nervous to start talking to us, and I was nervous, but once we started talking, we started talking a lot,” Kiera says. “They would … tell us stories of when they were little kids, and you could see the resemblance of their life and your life together.”
The cherry-stained raised garden beds stand tall on wheels and are centrally located on the back patio, surrounded by community seating and tables.
Alongside colorful blooms, vegetables and herbs from the garden are used by Artis Senior Living’s culinary director to craft many of the residents’ favorite meal: pizza. And with the help of a group of residents that have taken up responsibility for the garden—watering, tidying and weeding (one resident, Liz, waters the beds every day)—the garden will thrive for years to come.
“A number of our residents grew up on farms or had gardens, so this is a way to get residents together and give them purpose, to go out and still be able to water things and pick tomatoes and feel like they’re taking care of something,” Magnuson says.
Looking back, Saahithi says, “It was of course a lot of work, but … when the day finally came, I was like, ‘Wow’ ... After it was all done, we could see how far we’d gotten, and I just [cherish] that memory with everyone.”