Greenhouse Sale Spotlights CVH Workers

L-R: Local 2663's Scott Mason, Paul Bellantuono, Emily Mellon and Paul Lavallee.

Mother’s Day is coming. Need a hanging basket? Or a coleus plant? How about geraniums or impatiens or fuschia?

Then head out to Middletown where, starting April 28, some dedicated public servants will be hard at work for their first CT Valley Greenhouse Sale of 2016.

This event that takes place on the grounds of Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) is more than a sale; it’s the public product of a successful year-round, garden-to-table program spearheaded by vocational-rehabilitation counselors who are members of AFSCME Local 2663 (P-2 Human & Social Services Bargaining Unit).

For several years, the counselors have been instructing patients how to plant and harvest flowers, vegetables and more at the greenhouses located on the campus of CVH, where people receive specialized treatment for people dealing with psychiatric disabilities, addiction and more.

“Our patients earn the minimum wage and develop skills that will help them transition back into their communities,” said Emily Mellon, a voc-rehab counselor at CVH.

In addition to plants and flowers, CVH greenhouse workers grow a variety of vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers, okra, green beans and peppers that help stock the kitchens on campus as well as a vegetable stand under the supervision of their counselors.

“This program is making a difference,” added Scott Mason, who’s worked for 16 years as a voc-rehab counselor. “Our patients truly enjoy what they’re doing. We’ve developed a strong following in the community. We are dispelling myths and stereotypes about people [with mental illness and substance abuse issues].”

CVH holds four seasonal sales a year, with all proceeds benefiting the hospital’s patient activity fund. This fund supports recreational, therapeutic and educational activities for CVH patients -- thereby saving taxpayer dollars.

“Everything [we earn from the sale] goes back into helping the patients,” said Mellon, who holds a Master Gardener’s Certification from the University of Connecticut.

Paul Bellantuono, the building steward at CVH, says the CVH greenhouse program has not only engendered pride within the facility, it’s become a vehicle to support the local economy, including the many small companies that sell plant and vegetable seeds, and related gardening supplies, to CVH.

The 2016 Greenhouse Sale will not be without a bittersweet air, as Gov. Malloy recently ordered nearly 70 layoffs and cuts to services that affect the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), the state agency that oversees CVH. The cuts included the Valley View Café that offers the food prepared by patients participating in the greenhouse program.

The CVH Greenhouse Sale begins April 28, 2016 and is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., until items are sold out. The greenhouse grounds are located at 11 Flood St. in Middletown, at the base of the CVH campus. For more information call (860) 262-6700.