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Miller APSO members build planters for Cordova Health and Rehabilitation

The Miller APSO team built planter boxes for year-round use by residents at Cordova Nursing Rehabilitation. (Miller APSO)

A little inspiration, a little “elbow grease” and a lot of caring are making a big difference for older people living at Cordova Health and Rehabilitation.

This past summer, some members of the Alabama Power Service Organization (APSO) learned that the nursing facility was trying to encourage its residents to enjoy outdoor activities. Recognizing the community need, Miller Steam Plant APSO chapter members offered to help.

“A lot of us here have had family members or friends at Cordova Health,” said Tracy Pope, Maintenance team leader and Miller APSO president. “We’ve worked on other projects for them, pruning bushes, cleaning the courtyard and making a bench. They brought to our attention ideas to get residents to meet in the courtyard outside.”

Wanting to make an immediate impact, Miller Maintenance Specialist Judd Hamilton said Miller APSO members decided to build five large planter boxes to encourage residents to start gardening.

During the planning stage, Hamilton asked residents of Cordova Health and Rehabilitation to recommend the best height for the planters.

“We wanted to make it easy for residents in wheelchairs to access the planters,” said Hamilton, who, with Maintenance Specialist Leonard Littleton, took measurements for the boxes.

Miller Compliance and Support Manager Bernard McGrew encouraged employee participation and use of sustainable materials. Maintenance Specialist Willie Jones, Assistant Plant Operator Dion Oliver, Planner Ernest Tubbs and Hamilton built the planters. Using remnant paint and sealant, they decorated the planters. Materials Specialist Lisa Bombalier added the finishing touch: laminated signs attributing the handiwork to Miller APSO.

They shopped for soil, fertilizer and plants at a home-improvement store.

“We wanted the residents to have instant gratification,” Hamilton said, with a chuckle. “When we went to select plants, they had lots in the starter size. But we bought plants that were taller. We wanted to add several plants that would be at residents’ height. That’s why we settled on planters no taller than 2 feet high, so that less-mobile people could reach them.” They delivered and set up the planters at the facility.

“Miller APSO gave about $600 and 160 volunteer hours for this project, and every minute was worth it,” Pope said.

‘Let our family be your family’

Pam Taylor, activities coordinator at Cordova Health and Rehabilitation, said residents and staff are excited about the new planters, which make the courtyard “nice and homey,” adding to everyone’s enjoyment while outside. “Residents enjoy them, and their families love it.”

Residents harvested the squash and gave them to the staff to cook. Perhaps most important, Taylor said, the plants give residents something to do.

“They took over by keeping the plants watered. They have loved it,” said Taylor, who has worked at the facility for 15 years. “The planters are beautiful in our courtyard area. Our residents pulled the tomatoes and peppers and ate them and shared them as a group. As hot as it was this summer, they kept it watered and have taken really good care of it.

“They want to help,” she said. “Some of them may not take but one cup of water out to water the plants. Everybody assumed responsibility for taking care of them, for the produce that came off of them. They have loved having it – it’s been just like a part of home to have that.

“Our motto is ‘Let our family be your family,’” Taylor said. “We try to make it as homelike an environment as possible, so this has helped in that. We had been wanting some of these planters for a long, long time. Miller APSO has been so good to us.”

Pope said those efforts will continue: “The next thing we want to do is help build another wheelchair ramp. We want to do things to help them.”

This story originally appeared in Powergrams, the company’s magazine for employees and retirees.