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City Hall Park

The Daily Plant : Wednesday, November 17, 2004

GARDENER INTERN SEES BEAUTY AT CITY HALL PARK

If the gardens of City Hall Park have looked particularly inviting and colorful over the past several months, part of the credit is due to the hard work of Gardener Intern Dwayne Saunders. Since joining the gardening crew at the premier location in District 1, Dwayne has learned much from and contributed more to the ambience of one of New York City’s oldest public parks.

Dwayne Saunders also happens to be blind.

Dwayne, who is 39, suffers from a degenerative retinal condition that has rendered him virtually sightless, but his condition has hardly curbed his enthusiasm for taking on challenges, and it has not been an impediment to his service as a dedicated part of the gardening staff at City Hall Park. Dwayne’s service at Parks & Recreation is an object lesson in the capabilities among the disabled that are present but not always used.

His journey to working as a gardener began nearly a year ago. That is when he and associates at the Helen Keller Services for the Blind considered how an existing program designed to bring the homebound disabled out and about could be revised to offer access to previously unavailable jobs in public and private organizations. Using support from the New York State Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Dwayne presented Manhattan Chief of Operations Nam Yoon with an attractive package: free labor for 13 weeks, with the costs of benefits and training offset by Helen Keller Services.

Dwayne began working at City Hall Park on July 12 under the tutelage of Gardener Richard Haughland. According to Haughland, he adapted quickly to the work in this highly visible park. "Dwayne has been one of our most enthusiastic workers," Park Manager Dan Mercado said recently. "His visual impairment has not been a factor at all. We’d take ten Dwayne Saunderses if we could get them."

"I’ve developed kind of a proprietary feeling for City Hall Park," said Dwayne during a visit to Chief Yoon at the Manhattan Borough Office. "Richard and the staff have been really supportive, and they have taught me a lot. I can’t wait to come back in the spring and see how all the bulbs we’ve planted and the spring-flowering shrubs and perennials will turn out."

If Dwayne can say, unselfconsciously, that he can’t wait to "see" the City Hall Park gardens in the spring, his listeners also quickly lose any consciousness of his visual impairment. On a recent visit to the park, Dwayne pointed to sleek planting beds that he had groomed and mulched. While his condition has left him with no vision in his right eye, surgery in 1979 helped to restore a fraction of sight in his left eye, sight that Dwayne makes the most of.

"It’s not a matter of what I can’t see, like print in a newspaper," he says. "I think about what I can see, and everything I see is cool."

Dwayne, who celebrated his eighth wedding anniversary on October 26, recently moved to the Midwood section of Brooklyn, after living in Manhattan for many years. He commutes by subway to his work at City Hall Park.

Dwayne will be taking classes in horticulture at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, paid for by the program he helped to expand at Helen Keller Services. He hopes eventually to find a more permanent position at Parks & Recreation. "Look at it this way," he says. "Where can you get a dedicated gardener whose training and benefits are fully paid by a non-profit organization, costing the city taxpayers nothing?" Manhattan Operations apparently agrees; Dwayne’s internship line was recently extended for another year.

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

"It is only when you start a garden – probably after age fifty –
that you realize something important happens every day."

Geoffrey B. Charlesworth

 

 

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