With the threat of stormy weather looming overhead, Sherry Reeves painted butterflies on a blue pallet inscribed with the words, “forgiveness, family, friends, love, live” and “laughter.”
The whimsical artwork is a welcome addition to the garden oasis — spearheaded in part by her 70-year-old neighbor Sharon Blankenship — that is taking root behind three of Etowah Area Consolidated Housing Authority’s senior apartment units on Garrison Drive in Cartersville.
Featuring items such as repurposed thrift store finds, potted plants, bird feeders and painted pallets, the garden has created a sense of community for nearby seniors. Serving as the meeting hub, colorful plastic chairs surrounding a table comprise a gathering spot for individuals throughout the day. Along with sharing a cup of coffee, the residents engage in hearty conversation, observe wildlife and, as demonstrated by Reeves, 62, on Thursday, work on treasured pieces of art.
“[I enjoy] the camaraderie with the other neighbors and watching the other neighbors that can’t get out and go to other places come up here and just enjoy it. [I also like] seeing the new things that [Sharon] brings in all the time. Nearly every day, something new is out here. It’s a lot of fun to walk out here and see what Sharon has brought in. We’re probably out here every day.
“... We were kind of needing a place so that people could get together and do crafts or play games or just socialize with each other. But a lot of the neighbors are not able to get out. They either don’t have transportation, or they’re not able to drive. She’s even brought people over here in wheelchairs. To see the smiles that it brings and the happiness that it brings to the people that are shut-in and just can’t do anything else, that’s the special part about it. ... The purpose of the pallets was to block the creek so nobody would fall in it,” she said, referring to the nearly 20 pallets that form an artistic fence. “Then she decided that everybody around here needed to [decorate] a pallet. ... It brings a lot of happiness to a lot of the neighbors. We can get out here and just chill, enjoy each other’s company and just sit here and watch the birds. It’s amazing how many hummingbirds are actually out here.”
The beautification project started about three months ago, when Blankenship was searching for an ideal location to place a bird feeder and bird bath. Initially clearing overgrown brush in a 10-by-10 wooded area, the effort has nearly quintupled in length.
“[We] started cleaning out the woods, and then it just kept going, and it just kept going,” Blankenship said. “Then people started donating [items]. We got the pallets donated to us. We got some pine straw. ... It’s just a wonderful place to go sit, eat and talk and look around at everything. It is very [rewarding] because we cleaned the woods. It wasn’t nothing but vines and dead trees. ... It’s just beautiful [now] out my back door.”
With painted wood pallets serving as the backdrop to various themed displays, the pieces of art also feature embellishments ranging from shoes to American flags. Interspersed with the pallet artwork are various items, such as a patriotic artificial Christmas tree and an Energizer Bunny riding a tricycle.
Prompted to create a gathering spot by her late neighbor, James Brey, Blankenship hopes the effort, in turn, fuels others to become more engaged with their community.
“[James] was in a wheelchair,” she said. “He couldn’t walk. ... He kept saying, ‘We all need a place to go where we can just sit and talk and eat.’ ... He passed away and that just drilled on my mind that he said, ‘We need a place to go [and] get together just to talk [and] enjoy.’ Every time we cut one weed or one vine ... he just entered my mind. ... That just inspired me just to keep going a little bit more and a little bit more till we got a nice, wonderful place.”
Finding inspiration in the seniors’ sense of community, Blankenship’s daughter-in-law Bonnie Adams emphasized the need to reach out to one’s neighbors.
“It is [inspiring]. For one [thing], mom’s staying busy. She’s out shopping and doing things and getting little items for her garden,” Adams said, referring to Blankenship purchasing unique items at thrift stores, Goodwill and Bartow Area Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore. “She’s coming home and staying busy painting them and planting flowers. ... She’s getting some of the ladies out of the house [because] they normally [would] just sit around all day. She’s getting them out and getting them involved.
“... [It is important to] beautify your neighborhood, what’s around you. Look and see what you have, and stay busy and stay active and just know your neighbors. ... [So often] neighbors don’t even know who lives next to them, or they don’t even know who lives in their neighborhood. These ladies all know who lives next to them. These ladies know what health problems the other one has, and they pitch in when something happens to each other.”