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Allendale plant sale in Lake Villa helps youth program blossom

LAKE VILLA – As much as plants grow at a greenhouse on the Lake Villa campus of Allendale, so does pride.

Every year for the past decade, students in the nonprofit association’s prevocational horticulture class host a sale featuring the wide assortment of plants they’ve grown year round.

And every year, Nanci Lunsford, Allendale’s horticulture and floral design instructor, reminds them, “You did it. There’s no secret elf coming in at night, no adults, just you.”

Then she watches their faces.

“Their chests pump a little, and they’re so proud of themselves,” she said.

That’s what the program is all about.

With its main Lake Villa campus, residential treatment programs, group homes, a Gurnee counseling center and an extended day treatment special education satellite program in Woodstock, the Allendale Association serves children – mainly between the ages of 6 and 18 – and their families throughout Lake and McHenry counties and beyond.

“These children, often victims of abuse, neglect or severe mental and/or behavioral health problems come to Allendale with the devastating experiences of failure in the classroom, misunderstanding in the home and isolation in the community,” the association’s website,, states. “Helping these children to heal and prepare for a brighter future requires highly sophisticated therapeutic programs and services.”

Along with horticulture, Allendale’s extensive vocational program includes a hands-on auto shop, wood shop, laundry, food service, embroidery and silk screening and more.

Lunsford works with at least 20 students a day at the Bernard B. Rinella Jr. Greenhouse and Mazza Gardens. Every year around Mother’s Day for the past two decades, she’s helped her students host a plant sale. The money raised goes toward the cost of the horticulture program.

This year’s sale will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 7-8 at the greenhouse on Allendale’s sprawling campus, located on Grand Avenue between Route 59 and Route 83 in Lake Villa. For information on the sale, call 847-245-6361.

“It’s a lot of work to put it together,” Lunsford said of the sale. “A lot of people work really hard for these kids, and it was really hard through the pandemic. We’re excited we’re getting a little bit back to normal.”

The COVID-19 pandemic may have prevented the typical plant sale last year, but Lunsford found creative ways for students to still be involved in horticulture. Students living in cottages on the Lake Villa campus were delivered plants, flowers and veggies to grow around their homes.

Lunsford brought wagons of ice cream to those awarded best flower box, best veggie garden and other prizes.

As students safely and slowly returned to the greenhouse, they prepared for this year’s sale, which will feature a wide assortment of hanging baskets, annuals, vegetables, herbs, succulents and other uncommon varieties of plants.

“I keep them on track and really working, and they do it and they rise to it because they’re proud of it,” Lunsford said.

“They’re all really successful here and like it in different ways. We rarely have a behavior in there, which is a real testimony to how they’re engaged and enjoying what they’re doing.”

To Lunsford and the students involved, the sale’s success is not measured in profit.

“The therapeutic benefit of that building and garden far exceeded our highest hope,” said Lunsford, who first started at Allendale as a part-time teacher of floral design more than 20 years ago. Her job expanded along with the greenhouse and the plants inside.

“It started simple, but it’s grown and grown,” she said.

Along with feeling proud, those involved learn skills they can use at home or even in future jobs, she said. They learn about nutrition, how to grow food, why to care about the environment and so many other life lessons, she said, even a bit of animal science.

Some of the students, many of them from cities, have never really seen up close the small animals found around the greenhouse and on campus, such as toads and an occasional snake.

“I watch them turn from fear to ‘Can I keep it?’ ” Lunsford said.

They all become a team, working toward one goal.

And every year after the plant sale, Lunsford hosts a pizza party for those involved. She reminds them that their success started with the tiny seeds they planted and resulted from their hard work.

“This program is for them,” she said.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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