MONROE - When his temper gets the best of him, James, an inmate at the Monroe County Youth Center, goes to the window in the detention day room to look into the serenity garden.
The teenager is among the boys and girls being housed in the treatment facility who landscaped areas around the county-owned building with trees, shrubs, and blooming perennials.
He said the garden is a stress reliever and gazing at the song- birds, monarch butterflies, and other wildlife is calming.
"When I need to get away from things, I will just stand there and look outside," the 16-year-old said.
Efforts to turn barren and grassy areas into garden beds had been a long-time goal of Terrie Vanderpool, a supervisor at the youth center.
"It had always been my big dream. I would look out these windows and say to myself that one of these days we are going to plant a garden out there," said Mrs. Vanderpool, a 27-year employee at the center.
In the summer 2008, she and supervisors Jackie Ellis and Jennifer Poupard and volunteer inmates from the center went to work on the first of three serenity gardens.
They took shrubs and perennials that had been donated by local greenhouses and nurseries, dug out dirt and replaced it with fresh topsoil and mulch, and went to work on barren areas outside windows.
Mrs. Vanderpool said the three gardens house nearly 400 shrubs, perennials, ground covers, and trees. More than two dozens nurseries and garden centers donated the items.
One of the areas has a bench dedicated to the late Fred Richardson. a former youth center group leader and tireless advocate for underprivilege children. He died from cancer several years ago.
A reception was held last week on the lawn outside the youth center to dedicate the serenity gardens.
The center is divided into a detention center and treatment facility where youths attend classes, receive group and family counseling, and substance-abuse programs and other support groups.
Boys and girls were allowed to work with youth center staff after earning privileges.
Mrs. Ellis said they were eager to get outside and work in the gardens, chores that allowed them to learn such landscaping skills as dividing bulbs and roots to make more plants.
The gardens, which are decorated with ornamental bird bath and arbor, rocks, and stepping stones, give the youths and their parents who come to visit something fresh and interesting to see.
"It is good for the kids to have to something to focus on. That is what gives me joy; to see how much the kids enjoy it," Mrs. Vanderpool said.
Purple cone flowers, foxglove, and a blooming butterfly bush attract Monarchs and hummingbirds.
"Sometimes the kids will just sit in a chair and just look outside into the garden," she said. "Sometimes this is a sad place. These kids have a lot of time to think."
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