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Health Fusion: Getting our hands dirty for Brighter Tomorrows

In this Health Fusion column for NewsMD, children battling cancer celebrate spring and Mother's Day by creating container gardens with the help of Brighter Tomorrows and Olmsted County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers.

Viv Williams

ROCHESTER, Minn. -- What's not to love about creating a flower pot bursting with the colors and fragrances of spring? Snap dragons so vividly yellow they glow. Violas that look like soft, purple velvet. And smiling children, who, for at least a little while, can take their minds off of the fact that they're fighting cancer.

The spring celebration that happened on Saturday, May 1, was in honor of Mother's Day and organized by both Brighter Tomorrows and Olmsted County Extension Master Gardener Volunteers . As a new OCEMGV intern, the family event was the first time I was out in the community helping to promote gardening and sharing what I'm learning about gardening best practices. Even though we had to teach how to plant and care for flowers via Zoom, I could not have imagined a more meaningful or delightful event.

Ashley Hull is program coordinator at Brighter Tomorrows, a support organization in Rochester, founded by families who have faced childhood cancer.

"This event means so much to me and to us as an organization, because it helps to honor our mothers who do so much for us and their own families," Hull says. "It brings people together from all parts of the state, and even out of state. In a time when things have felt so separated because of COVID, it is exciting to see us come together using the power of communication and technology."

With kits of pots, mulch, soil and flowers donated by Sargent's Landscape Nursery in Rochester, the kids learned how to put together container displays. The OCEMG volunteers also gave each family a journal so they could take notes, draw pictures and express how they feel about helping a small piece of nature develop and grow.


Mandi Bennett and her family participated in the flower-planting fun. In 2019, her son Ryan was diagnosed with b-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia . Soon after that, they joined Brighter Tomorrows, an organization for which Bennett is grateful.

"Ryan (now 7 years old) is just over two years into treatment and is scheduled to be done in June of 2022," says Bennett. "After a rough start, Ryan is doing fantastic. He takes daily oral chemo and once a month has IV chemo. Brighter Tomorrows has been amazing in providing fun activities for our family to do together."

While the event was designed for children like Ryan and their families, the volunteers in attendance benefitted too. I know that I certainly came away with a deeper appreciation for the way in which nature connects and heals.

"Helping a child who is impacted by cancer create a gift for their mother or loved one is an honor I cannot put into words," says Catherine McBride, an OCEMG volunteer and my teaching partner for the day. "The depth of love and meaning that accompanies this simple kindness is fathomless."
McBride says she is committed to teaching young people to understand, respect and cherish life. And that every day in which you can care for flowers is a reminder that life is a gift.

"When a person cares for a plant, watches it respond to the things it needs to live (light, water, soil and air), they are learning how to care for all living things," McBride says. "Through this we learn to respect life and to protect it, and that means a more bountiful existence for us all."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 15,000 children under the age of 20 are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. The CDC lists leukemia, brain, other nervous system cancers and lymphoma as the most common types of childhood cancer.

Brighter Tomorrow is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of families facing childhood cancer. They are always interested in new volunteers or donations. Contact them on-line or by calling 507-254-3952 for more information.


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