Valdosta Daily Times


June 16, 2013

Children help garden, community grow

VALDOSTA — Elizabeth Redden wanted a garden. She wanted to eat a healthier diet. Confined to a wheelchair, she wants to lose weight, needs to lose weight, but her health problems along with husband Hoyt’s blindness, made starting a garden impossible.

Jane Teasley spent the past school year working as a substitute teacher who also spends her after-school hours working with children in the Boys and Girls Club of Valdosta. She had re-started the Boys & Girls Club’s Garden Club program for youngsters ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old, but Teasley also wanted the children to work in the community. She wanted her young students to see how gardening and fresh foods can help not only the gardener but others.

This is the story of a garden, but it is also the story of how two needs were met in a small backyard in Valdosta. How a physically challenged couple has come to love the weekly visits of nearly two dozen children and how those youngsters have learned a sense of community by, what Jane Teasley calls, “planting it forward.”

It is a story of not only how a garden grows but how friendships and a sense of community can grow.

Striving for Normal

Hoyt and Elizabeth Redden have been married for 35 years. He is blind. She is confined to a wheelchair, fighting several health concerns, including her weight.

Despite everything, the Reddens try living as normal a life as possible. For several years, Hoyt operated the concession room in the Downtown Valdosta federal building. By touch, he knows how to count money, has operated a business and lived as independently as possible.

Hoyt is a quiet man but he knows how to handle himself. Elizabeth says it is frustrating when they go shopping or out to eat and people speak to her instead of him.

“They’ll ask me what he wants to eat,” Elizabeth says. “He’s sitting right there. They need to ask him but it’s like they overlook him. He knows what he wants to order. ... Or he’ll hand them money at the register and they go to hand his change to me.”

“It’s my money,” Hoyt says, with a slight chuckle. “They should hand my money to me.”

 About five years ago, Hoyt left the job at the federal building. Habitat for Humanity helped the couple realize a long-time dream of having a house of their own. For the past four years, they have lived in the Habitat house. Caregivers come to the house to help the Reddens with some daily needs.

Rising weight aggravated Elizabeth’s health concerns. She began dieting and has seen steady results, she says. “This time last year, I was 475 and now I’m down to 414.”

Battling to lose weight, she has turned to healthier foods. She buys vegetables and fruits. Elizabeth wished she could have a backyard garden to grow vegetables for Hoyt’s and her dinner table.

A garden to go with their house and their new lives, but a garden is something they are unable to do alone.

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