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The butterfly brigade

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[Times photos: Jim Damaske]
Jeanine Klosterman cuts flowers to take home, with a a helping hand from Gro Group instructor Paula Littlefield.

By BETTE SMITH

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 10, 2000


A group of adults with special needs cultivates butterfly gardens as part of its vocational training.

TARPON SPRINGS -- Butterflies are becoming of interest to an increasing number of gardeners. Outdoor classrooms, from kindergartens to retirement communities, teem with nectar plants to feed the butterflies and host plants where eggs are laid and caterpillars hatch.

The Gro Group of Tarpon Springs, a program for adults with disabilities and special needs, has a curriculum that includes functional skills and vocational training in nursery management operations. The goal is to develop the knowledge and skills to become self-sufficient. With the help of teacher Paula Littlefield and volunteer Lois Weber of Palm Harbor, the group is working on a butterfly garden at the little schoolhouse in Craig Park.

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Gary Cooper is one of the Gro Group’s members.
Weber, a retired teacher and butterfly chair for District VIII, Florida Federation of Garden Clubs, began to advise the group about plants about five years ago. The group participates in the international butterfly count in May each year and plants in several city sites, assisted by the City of Tarpon Springs Division of Parks and Recreation. Students also work in a nursery, propagating plants to use in garden plots and to sell to the public.

The partnership arrangement with the City of Tarpon Springs also provides sites and labor at Cycadia Cemetery, Community Center, City Hall, Pinellas Trail, Memory Lane (train station), Library, Sunset Beach and Cops-N-Kids Center.

After morning classes, many in the group hold jobs at firms such as Albertson's, Hess, Target, UPARC and Winn-Dixie.

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