Monday, April 23, 2012
By David Sharos For The Sun April 19, 2012 11:08PM
Residents bound to wheelchairs living at the Tabor Hills Healthcare and Rehabilitation facility in Naperville would still like to enjoy the green thumb activities that were once part of their lives.
Now, thanks to a local Boy Scout looking to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle Scout, those garden-loving residents will be getting back to the earth this spring.
Michael Brancato, 14, who attends Hill Middle School in Naperville, is, by all accounts, a special kid. Beyond being a solid student who is active in music as well as sports, Brancato joined the Boy Scout program a few years ago with the goal of achieving Eagle rank, something only 5 percent of those in Scouting complete annually.
While volunteering at Tabor Hills to fulfill requirements for his community merit badge, a need arose and Brancato has answered the call.
“We have been looking to start a garden club here at Tabor Hills, but for the patients in wheelchairs, working with plants in the traditional way was impossible,” said Dee McHale, marketing director. “Michael wanted to take on this project, and he was able to raise the money and build one permanent raised planting bed to be located in the Tabor Hills Therapeutic Garden, plus six moveable raised planting beds along with two moveable gardening work tables. The idea was to make gardening accessible to those that are in wheelchairs.”
Brancato raised about $1,500 to buy materials for the project and designed and drew up plans virtually by himself.
“I was really touched by the staff there at Tabor Hills and wanted to do something to support them and the facility,” Brancato said. “I went on the Internet and looked at some plans and was able to draw them up on a computer so others could see them. After the plans were done, I’d show them to either my Eagle coach or my dad and got some feedback on them, but I pretty much did all of this myself.”
Tabor Hills director of environmental services John Lawler said he oversaw the project and reviewed details with Brancato “whose plans were well thought out.”
“Michael secured the lumber and organized and worked out all the details of this project virtually by himself,” Lawler said. “We made a few suggestions to keep things simple. He had a crew of his friends over here the week before Easter and they were able to finish the project working over a period of three days. It was pretty impressive.”
Michael’s mother, Janet Brancato, said her son’s goal one day is to become a doctor and that volunteering to work at Tabor Hills “was a way to work in a medical care area.”
“When Michael volunteered here, he got to work with the activity director and they talked about this garden club and Michael really wanted to take this on despite all the other commitments he has with school and athletics and music,” she said. “He’s been very dedicated about his goal to make Eagle from the start, and he’s enjoyed doing something where he could give back to the community.”
Michael’s father Tom Brancato said the local 84 Lumber company deserved a shout out for helping defray some of the cost of the materials even though his son still secured donations during a two-month period.
“We also had kids who were willing to give up a part of their spring break to come out and help with the project,” he said. “One day, we had at least 20 kids over here at our house helping make the mobile beds. We’re not gardeners or woodworkers here and yet Michael saw a unique need and wanted to fill that need.”
Brancato said he plans to go on with Scouting once he starts high school and that he’s not worried about his peers suggesting that being a Boy Scout isn’t cool.
“When I needed my friends to help, all I had to do was ask them once and they all came out,” he said. “They respect the goal I had. The most difficult part of this project was the plans. Tabor Hills is a unique place and I wanted to do this for them.”