Project ReBloom Turns Tragedy Into Beauty

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The fountain after the planting
The fountain after the planting

“She jogged, took yoga classes, belonged to a bicycle club and always ate healthfully,” said Sharyn Schneider of her friend, whose family requests that her identity remain private. “She was in really good physical condition but all that changed in an instant. She was crossing Middle Neck Road in the Old Village on that summer night and, as a result of the hit and run, she became totally paralyzed.”

After months in the hospital, Schneider’s friend was transferred to the Margaret Tietz Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Jamaica Hills. The grounds of the wonderful facility that was founded in 1971 to serve Holocaust survivors had the framework for a beautiful garden where patients could enjoy the outdoors, but the barren space didn’t have even one flower. Through Project ReBloom, on Sunday, Sept. 25, Great Neck volunteers, local high school and college students and even the nursing home director and her family joined forces to bring the garden back to life with bulbs and fall flowers.

The fountain before Project ReBloom
The fountain before Project ReBloom

Just before the accident, Schneider’s friend, who had recently moved into a new apartment in Great Neck and was awaiting a parking spot in her building, returned home from dinner with friends. As she crossed Middle Neck Road, the hit-and-run driver stole everything from her.

Sadly, this is just one of many tragedies inflicted on pedestrians in Great Neck. This past Friday morning, a 43-year-old man was struck by a hit-and run driver on Middle Neck Road at Barstow Road and the beloved dog of one of this week’s letter writers was killed by a hit-and-run driver last Saturday. These senseless catastrophes have got to stop, but in the meantime, this group of concerned citizens is enriching hundreds of lives with Project ReBloom.

Councilman Rory Lancman talking with volunteers and Director Linda Spiegel (left)
Councilman Rory Lancman talking with volunteers and Director Linda Spiegel (left)

“As my friend spent her time in the rehab center, her days were filled with listening to books on tape (she was unable to hold a book), watching TV (she was very interested in the election) and listening to music,” explained Schneider. “She had her windowsill filled with plants that visitors had brought, but even that was a problem because an aide or housekeeping had to be asked to water them. I started to bring succulents, which needed very little care and she liked that a lot.”

This formerly active woman was confined to her room for nearly a year until Schneider discovered the outdoor garden at the rehab center.

The Fefer Family of Great Neck helps with Project ReBloom
The Fefer Family of Great Neck helps with Project ReBloom.

“On a beautiful day in July, I convinced my friend to go out to the garden,” said Schneider. “The place was really nice. There was a fountain, large planters, a sprinkler system and paths for wheelchairs, but we were very disappointed that there wasn’t a flower in sight. When I told my friend that I wanted to make the garden live again, she was very happy and even excited about it.”

Schneider said that her “Martha Stewart genes started working,” and when she went back for another visit, she approached the administration with her plan. She was told that a thriving garden once existed, but they lost the gardener and soon after the plants.

Great Neck resident Jordan Fefer, age 6, is a big help!
Great Neck resident Jordan Fefer, age 6, is a big help!

“I wanted to create color and a beautiful place for the 200 residents of this five-star facility,” said Schneider. “The residents are physically disabled, frail elderly and people with chronic health problems, but they make the most of every day they have.”

Schneider knew there were many volunteers who would be able to help with digging and planting and that the maintenance staff would be able to help with watering. So, she sent a letter to friends and local garden centers explaining her plans for Project ReBloom and asking for their support.

Mums brighten up the garden.
Mums brighten up the garden.

“The response to my letter was more than either of us hoped for,” said Schneider. “Not only did I get very generous donations, but when I called places to help me get soil, even if they couldn’t, they donated something else! Roma Horticulture on Great Neck Road donated two trees; Bissett Nursery in Holtsville donated the cost of the soil delivery; Fields of Green, the amazing landscaper of the Lake Success Village Club, donated tulip bulbs; and Kurt Weiss Nurseries arranged for the mums and cabbages to be picked up closer to Great Neck—and discounted the order. My friend looked through the bulb catalog and chose the tulips and daffodils for next spring. Project ReBloom was happening!”

The cabbage plants add texture for fall.
The cabbage plants add texture for fall.

Everyone was getting excited for Project ReBloom—and then Schneider received devastating news.

“Three weeks ago, I got a call from my friend’s son telling me that my friend had died that day,” said Schneider. “It was shocking to everyone. It was sudden and totally unexpected. The breakfast tray was brought at 7 a.m. and by 8 a.m. she was found unresponsive. The garden is now going to be a memorial garden to the person who inspired it.”

What beautiful autumn plants!
What beautiful autumn plants!

Schneider is thrilled that she could bring this garden back to life and is grateful for all of the help.

“I want to bring some beauty into the lives of the Margaret Tietz residents. I would like to plant flowers for the fall and tulips and daffodil bulbs for next spring. Then, slowly but surely, add perennials and annuals each spring,” said Schneider in her letter. “We hope that anyone who understands the magic of flowers and that a garden can bring beauty, joy and tranquility into the lives of people will want to help keep Project ReBloom alive.”

What beautiful autumn plants!
What beautiful autumn plants!

To make a tax deductible donation to Project ReBloom, send your contribution to the attention of Linda Spiegel, director, Margaret Tietz Nursing and Rehab Center, 164-11 Chapin Pkwy., Jamaica Hills, NY 11432, and write Project ReBloom on the memo line.

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Sheri ArbitalJacoby brings more than three decades of publishing experience at national magazines to her position as editor of the Great Neck Record. She also writes decorating, travel, food and green articles for Long Island Weekly and Anton Media Group's special sections.

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