Spreading Holiday Cheer One Poinsettia at a Time
For more than 25 years, many of the beautiful holiday displays at churches, offices, party rooms and homes around Houston have included festive poinsettias grown by some of the most dedicated horticulture experts in Southeast Texas. These talented gardeners grow 50,000 poinsettias in their 47 greenhouses just west of Houston. Their success is a tribute to their exceptional work ethic and enthusiasm. Highly experienced in embracing hurdles with passion, they are an inspiration to many. The gardening happens at The Brookwood Community, a special place where adults with disabilities – known as citizens at Brookwood - come to bloom and thrive, just like poinsettias.
Located on 475 acres of rolling hills in Brookshire, Texas, Brookwood is a community where adults with disabilities can engage in meaningful job experiences, such as working in the community’s café and gift store, which are open to the public. There are about 200 citizens, a combination of residential citizens that live on the property full-time and day citizens that commute to Brookwood Monday through Friday. Citizens range in ages from 20s-70s and have a wide range of disabilities including autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injuries.
In non-pandemic years, the 100 Brookwood citizens who work in the horticulture department start planting poinsettia saplings at the end of July, so the plants are ready around Thanksgiving. This year, most of the citizens were home in late March due to Covid-19. The Brookwood horticulture team wasn’t sure how everything would get done for the 2020 holiday season. When the pandemic hit Houston in March, they lost about half of their annual Easter lily sales.
Although citizens weren’t able to participate in the poinsettia planting as in the past, they have still been able to be involved in the process. Prior to planting, citizens helped fill pots with soil, add the Brookwood stamp on the brown paper sleeves and clean recycled pots from their homes.
More than 500 volunteers from the larger Houston-area community came to Brookwood to help plant, ring and space the poinsettias. Robert Grove, horticultural manager at Brookwood, shared, “The miracle was not having to cancel this year and that the citizens were still able to contribute from home. There was a whole bunch of prayers from citizens, family and friends.”
Anne Schneider, 38, has been part of the horticulture team for two years and says Robert is an outstanding teacher. She lives in Tanglewood with her family and is a day citizen at Brookwood. She shared, “I have Down syndrome and I just love my job, planting poinsettias with absolutely the best people ever.” Citizens were disappointed when the program had to shut down due to Covid this year.
Anne continued, “My friends and I still wanted to help, even if we were stuck at home and couldn’t get out to Brookwood. So we worked, stamping the brown paper sleeves with ‘Brookwood.’ I stamped 1,500 of them. My friend Paul [Pressler] stamped even more. The citizens were able to stamp all 50,000 sleeves! We were happy that we could help.”
Paul, a Tanglewood neighbor, is indeed the reigning champ of stamping “Brookwood” on poinsettia sleeves. He took his job very seriously and stamped 5,000 of them. Paul, 54, shared, “I like to help Brookwood and I like to help people.” Paul has been a day citizen for 25 years. In addition to stamping, one of Paul’s passions is singing in the Second Baptist choir on Sundays. During Covid times, he’s delighted that his Sunday school class is still meeting via Zoom and the choir rehearsals take place via Facebook Live.
West University native Brian Hale, 32, has been part of the Brookwood family since 2011. Brian, an avid swimmer, has also participated on Special Olympic teams. Brian attends West University Methodist Church with his family. A few years ago, the church switched their poinsettia orders to Brookwood. During a service, Brian was asked to stand up so he could be recognized and to let the rest of the church know that it was Brian and his friends that had worked so hard to create the beautiful flowers in the sanctuary.
West University Methodist Church Associate Pastor William Lucas shared, “Our church loves supporting Brookwood. We all know and love Brian and are proud of him and want to support Brian and his friends. It helps for people to put a face with Brookwood and realize what a special place it is.”
Robert echoed the sentiments about Brookwood. “We are happy people buy the poinsettias but even more important is raising people’s awareness of the Brookwood Community and also the high capabilities of adults with disabilities.” He often encourages others to volunteer with Brookwood citizens even just for a day to see what it’s like. “Even with all the struggles the citizens have, they still work hard and with such a positive attitude.”
Anne shared: “I hope that everyone who buys a poinsettia will have an especially wonderful holiday!”
Preorder your poinsettias here. Poinsettias are $10.50 plus sales tax per plant and are available for pickup only at the following dates/times and locations:
- Second Baptist Church (6400 Woodway Dr., Houston, TX 77057): Nov. 23-24, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Dec. 10-11, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
- Brookwood's Open House (1752 FM 1489, Brookshire, TX 77423): Dec. 3-5, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. or until sold out.
- Brookwood Store Grand Parkway (7227 W. Grand Parkway, Richmond, TX 77407): Thursdays only, Dec. 3-17, 1-4 p.m.
- Brookwood's Holiday Store in The Woodlands (2025 Hughes Landing Blvd., Suite 900, Spring, TX 77380): Wednesdays only through Dec. 23, 3-5 p.m.
Editor’s note: For more on Brookwood, read Brookwood Community: Where there’s opportunity for all by Cheryl Ursin, published in Nov. 2014.
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