Program allows second chances to bloom for homeless

By JOSEPHINE MENDEZ

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Each member of the Green Team comes with his or her own unique story. For one reason or another, each has fallen on hard times and ended up homeless.

While there is no easy fix for what they’ve been through, they are thankful that the Green Team has given them the opportunity to not only better themselves, but also the community they live in.

“It’s an opportunity to get back on your feet and have a fresh start,” said Green Team member Kara Williams, 35, of Huntington.

Kara Williams and other Green Team members water flowers at Pullman Square in Huntington.
(Photo by Lori Wolfe)

Formed in 2008 by the Cabell-Huntington Coalition for the Homeless, the Green Team is run through Harmony House and the Jobs First program.

While many people may not be familiar with the group, they’ve more than likely seen the fruits of their labor.

From April to October, the Green Team employs roughly five to 10 homeless people to tend to and water plants at some of the city’s biggest attractions, in conjunction with the Huntington in Bloom city beautification effort.

This includes about 160 hanging flower baskets as well as 145 large flowers pots scattered throughout downtown and Harris Riverfront Park.

“It’s hard work,” said Green Team member Melissa Rainwater, 34, of Huntington. “But you really feel proud of being able to make Huntington a better place.”

Bill Rosenberger, Harmony House’s director of development, said the purpose of the Green Team is not only to support the efforts of Huntington in Bloom, which is responsible for purchasing and planting the flowers, but also to serve as a stepping stone for those it employs to get them back into the workforce.

“Green Team really steps in and addresses the needs of each individual,” Rosenberger said. “We help them build a resume and get the references they need while focusing on enhancing their jobs skills in order to help them apply for jobs and eventually get them housed.”

For Rainwater, the Green Team already has proven successful. Not only has she found a job at Jim’s Steak & Spaghetti House, but she has also been housed for a little over a month.

“They’ve helped me get my life back on track,” she said.

A little over a year ago, Rainwater said she began the process of getting clean from drugs and attributes a lot of her success to the programs at Harmony House.

“I had to start from scratch and with the opportunities that they’ve given me, I’ve been able to stay clean, get a job, get housed and soon I’ll be able to get my two children back,” she said. “None of that would have been possible without Harmony House.”

Those sentiments were echoed by BB Gamache, 31, of Huntington, who said she hopes to get housed in the near future.

She said she enjoys being part of something that is aimed at improving her city.

“It makes you feel good to be a part of something positive because so many people get a negative perspective of us,” she said. “They think that just because you are homeless, you want to be or you’re in the street because of drugs or something … but sometimes we just lose our way.”

If it wasn’t for Harmony House or the Green Team, Gamache said she truly believes that she would still be on the streets getting in trouble or even in jail.

“Harmony House really gives you a chance no matter what your background,” she said. “While most people won’t hire people like me with a background, they are willing to give you a chance.”

Gamache said it is because of that chance that she can prove to her family and friends who may have given up on her that she can change and make a difference.

This year the Green Team is led by Supervisor Jay Morales, who started working at Harmony House about seven months ago as a janitor.

Prior to this, Morales, 44, said he was living along the riverbank with his girlfriend for several months.

“Harmony House has really opened up a lot of doors for me, not only giving me a job but also helping me get housed,” he said. “They really give you an opportunity to better yourself.”

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