Mikey – Cultivating Community and Purpose

March 16, 2022
Mikey, smiling, sitting next to large tomato plants with harvest bucket in his lap.

As the Garden and Programs Instructor for Sunflower Hill, I’ve been privileged to meet some extraordinary people. One such individual is Mikey, our Garden Program Participant Spotlight for March! Mikey exudes joy through his smile and excited exclamations. He’s kind-natured, sociable, has a contagious smile, and charming personality. Upon arriving to the Sunflower Hill Garden, Mikey will frequently shout out each staff member’s name with joy. He’s an outgoing, gregarious person who will often say “you are so sweet” and “I appreciate you” as we interact with him. Mikey has been coming to the Sunflower Hill Garden for the past five years, having first attended with his high school class and now attending with his transition program. He has an unmistakable flare for fashion and jewelry, frequently pointing out his newest, brightly colored sunglasses, his necklaces with large jewels, or a distinct print on his clothing or accessories.

Hear what Mikey has to say about the Sunflower Hill Garden


 A Unique Collector

Mikey standing in front of an old Cadillac car at the Blackhawk MuseumMikey enjoys attending his transition program and especially loves going on field trips. “(We get to) go on fun trips together,” he said. He shared that he enjoyed visiting the Blackhawk Museum in Danville recently and really liked the cool cars, especially the black Cadillac. Mikey loves cars and is particularly enamored with hubcaps. He really loves hubcaps! In fact, Mikey prefers to be called “Mr. Hubcap” and has even requested the moniker be put on his name tag. I asked him one time how many hubcaps he owns. He smiled and said, “a lot!” He shared with me that he finds them on the side of the road, cleans and buffs them, and then hangs them on the wall in his bedroom. He loves that they look shiny and new after cleaning.

Mikey in his room with hubcaps hanging on his wall. Posters of Bruno Mars and Prince.“Mikey is an avid collector of hubcaps,” said Laura Droppo, Mikey’s Transition Program Teacher. “He is also an artist. He likes to turn recycled and thrift store items into vehicles. He is very creative,” she said. Mikey mentioned that his favorite hubcap comes from a Cadillac. “I love Cadillacs,” he said. When he’s not collecting hubcaps or attending programs, Mikey enjoys walking and riding his bike in his yard and hanging out with friends.

Sunflower Hill Garden Favorites

Mikey sitting on bench in Sunflower Hill Garden, smiling with orange slice in his mouth.When I asked Mikey what he likes most about coming to the Sunflower Hill Garden, he responded “working!” He said he enjoys “digging in the dirt. I like the arm scooper,” he said referring to the adaptive trowel garden tool we offer participants. Mikey says that he likes to “garden…a lot!” His favorite task is “picking the strawberries.” Mikey “loves going to the garden to see friends and participate in garden tasks,” said Droppo. “The staff at the garden are very thoughtful and give Mikey tasks that he can accomplish and feel proud doing.” Mikey also enjoys snack time. His favorite snack item is oranges. He even has a fun way of eating them!

Mikey stated one downside to the garden: “There are bugs. Bugs are disgusting,” he said. Mikey does like lady bugs and spiders – even tarantulas! Mikey wishes more people knew about the Sunflower Hill Garden and that they could work at the Garden.

Giving Back

Mikey “feels good” about being able to harvest produce that is then donated to non-profits who serve those in need. “The garden gives (Mikey) a sense of accomplishment and pride,” said Droppo. “He always has a giant smile on his face from the time he arrives to the time he leaves.”

Looking Ahead

When I asked Mikey what he thought about living through the pandemic for the past two years, he replied solemnly, “Not good. I did not like COVID,” he said. “I think being away from the garden during school closures was especially difficult for Mikey,” said Droppo. “He views the garden as an extension of the classroom and all of the volunteers as his friends. He is a social guy and is happiest around people.” Now that pandemic restrictions are easing, Mikey is eagerly anticipating not having to wear a mask and visiting his favorite pizza place, Pieolegy.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, Mikey has maintained his optimistic attitude and is happy to be participating in the Sunflower Hill Garden program again. “This is the best garden I have ever seen. I love coming here!” he said sincerely. Likewise, we love having Mikey in the Garden Program! Our garden community is greatly enhanced by Mikey’s pure joy for life. His deep appreciation for people, the work he does, and his overall positive outlook adds to the beauty of the Sunflower Hill Garden.


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Story by: Molly Morse, Sunflower Hill Garden and Programs Instructor
Contributing Writer: Rachel Clark, Sunflower Hill Communications Manager

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