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Step-By-Step looks to resurrect a greenhouse program to help the mentally ill

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The mentally ill could soon again reap therapeutic benefit from the seeds they sow.

Ogdensburg’s Step-By-Step Inc. is looking to re-establish a greenhouse program to engage clients in a therapeutic activity that will also get them job skills. The organization’s mission is to support the community’s mentally ill by helping them gain employment, safe housing and social skills to become self-sufficient.

Executive Director David A. Bayne said Wednesday that the agency needs to raise $14,000 to purchase and construct a greenhouse.

“The fear of the hospital (St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center) closing, the lack of programs and all the stuff that’s going along with it makes this the time to start looking at what we can do to help folks, to give them some meaning to their lives,” Mr. Bayne said.

Mr. Bayne said the program aims to take the place of a greenhouse program that was cut from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center’s programming a decade ago.

“It was something that helped folks. They got a sense of accomplishment. They got to nurture something. That helps with self-sufficiency,” he said.

The state Office of Mental Health has proposed moving inpatient services from the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center to hospitals in Syracuse and Utica in a move that relies more heavily on community support to help the mentally ill live productive lives.

A regional team of mental health professionals and advocates will determine what outpatient services will be available in the north country, but Mr. Bayne said his organization is not going to wait.

He said two town of Oswegatchie farmers who wish to remain anonymous have donated land on Hutchinson Road to house the greenhouse and equipment to get the grounds ready to accommodate it. He said he hopes to get the greenhouse built by late fall to grow cold-weather crops and for a garden to be planted in the spring.

“It would be nice in the next few years to try to grow some things we could take to the farmers market or donate to the Ogdensburg Neighborhood Center,” Mr. Bayne said. “We could join our community with the bigger community.”

Barbara B. Ward, a member of the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center Board of Visitors and an employee of Northern New York Newspapers, remembers the psychiatric center’s greenhouse program well. Her mentally ill son, Brian, greatly benefited from it until it closed in 2002, she said.

“I still hear from people who are surprised that it closed because it did so much good,” she said.

She said working at the greenhouse gave her son a sense of purpose and fulfillment.

“My son was up every day at 7, packed his lunch and bounded down the steps to go to the greenhouse. It was just a serene, beautiful setting that eased his mind. He felt like he was contributing,” Ms. Ward said.

Mr. Bayne said the long-term goal of Step-By-Step’s greenhouse program is to become a client-owned cooperative.

“We are looking at the opportunity for them to be stakeholders and to buy into a business they can call their own,” he said.

Step-By-Step is a certified nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible. Donations may be mailed to 103 Ford St., Suite 2 A-B, Ogdensburg, N.Y., 13669.

Mr. Bayne said any and all donations are welcome, even if someone wants to volunteer their time to help in any capacity they can.

“If we can keep all of our expenses minimal in any way we can, we can get it up and going,” he said.

For more information about the project, contact Mr. Bayne at 394-0597.

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