By Tina Dirmann

BCBSLA Foundation Staff Writer

We had a great chat this weekend with Janet Mentesane, executive director for the Martin Luther King Health Center, where our partners with the Healthy Green and Into the Outdoors wellness initiative have been busy expanding the newly installed wellness garden.

The Healthy Choices Garden and Learning Center is adjacent to this all

Day of Caring Team
Day of Caring Team

volunteer, free clinic, which strives to combine traditional medicine with diet and exercise instruction to treat patients.  On Friday, during the United Way Of Northwest Louisiana Day of Caring, a team of 15 Margaritaville Resort Casino (Bossier City) employees descended on the Olive Street location to add three more raised beds (doubling the size of the existing garden) and prepare

Just A Sprinkle of Straw

them for herb planting. And on Saturday, students from nearby Centenary College turned out for another volunteer day (dubbed The Big Event), and helped plant scenery shrubs and flowers. The weekend was a messy one, thanks to a steady stream of rainfall in the days and hours prior to gardening. But our hearty volunteers were undeterred.

Mentesane talked to us as the volunteers got a sweat on:

“It’s pretty muddy out there, but everyone is in good spirits. They just

put on their rain boots and got to work! And we’re really excited about this green space because of what it’s allowing us to do. We’re a combination of traditional medicine and bringing nature into the way we practice, too — combining it altogether, which is a unique way of providing healthcare. We’ll combine a clinical experience with a nature one. We envision patients going to the doctor, getting their lab work done and while waiting for a prescription to be filled or their next appointment, instead of sitting in a waiting room, they can go into the garden and maybe participate in whatever activities are going on. We’re hoping to offer free yoga classes, stretching, cooking demonstrations. Eventually, we’re hoping to even have elliptical machines and stationary bikes. And all our patients will have access to the fruits and vegetables we grow. For free. There will be no cost for any of it. ”

Cooking classes in the garden would be a nice fit, she said. And they are already researching some exciting new ideas from an innovative culinary medical program offered through Tulane’s medical school.

Donna Curtis, director of Shreveport Green (an HGIO partner), said her group had two volunteers and one staffer working the gardens last weekend and brought several ornamental plants, including camellias and knockout roses.

“Serenity is an important part of this,” Curtis said. “Especially for the low income folks we serve, who are dealing with a lot of associated stress, which results in high blood pressure. This will be a place to just relax. You know, it’s been proven at hospitals with gardens that looking out a window at a green space is very soothing and healing. It lowers blood pressure. So, that’s what we want here — to provide a pleasant place to be.”

The Martin Luther King Health Center currently cares for a roster of about 1400 patients, all tended to by volunteer doctors, nurses and support staff. Last year alone, the clinic filled some 40,000 prescriptions, covering needs including diabetes, asthma, cardiac care and women’s wellness.

Much of the funding for the new garden has been made possible through our Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant program.

Volunteer Christy Wood, a member of the casino resort volunteer team known as Parrots with a Purpose, added:

“It feels great knowing something like this is part of our community. This center does a lot of great things for people and it’s nice to give back to a group that gives to so many.”

And after getting pretty dirty– treading mud, hauling fertilizer, raking dirt– she even put a positive spin on all the rainfall that left the garden a mucky mess.

“Actually, the rain we had made the job easier for us. The ground wasn’t rock hard, so it’s been easier to work with. So, we’re appreciative of that.”

And we’re appreciative of all your hard work, folks!

Hard At Work For Day of Caring