JULIE JEFFERY MANWARREN / FOR ABINGTON SUBURBAN Selena Waters digs into the rich soil of a bed of herbs and ornamental plants with help from Gwen Harleman. Shaun Lambert, who built the bed in 2018 stands by, ready to help.


At the end of Depot Street, just passed a little free library, a gate opens to a pocket park. Inside, a group of adults with special needs, led by Gwen Harleman, planted and continue to tend a raised garden bed.

Under the umbrella of The Deutsch Institute, an agency that provides adaptive community recreation and gives oversight and programming for many different kinds of projects, the group came together to beautify the park.

The pocket park was formed in September of 2015 on land donated by the Maria family. Clarks Summit borough officials including former mayor Patty Lawler, Lackawanna County Commissioners, Johnson College architectural drafting and design students, the Clarks Summit Shade Tree Commission, several businesses and volunteers were responsible for its creation.

The Deutsch Institute serves Lackawanna, Luzerne, Wayne, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties to develop and expand resources for persons with special needs.

“We connect people,” Harleman shared. “We are a good conduit for people in Northeast Pennsylvania.”

Many individuals and organizations came together to facilitate the garden at the pocket park. The raised garden bed was built by Shaun Lambert. Lambert, along with Selena Waters and Victoria Brown continue to plant and tend to the garden. In 2018, the group was organized by The Deutsch Institute’s Verve Vertu Art Studio. They filled the raised bed with vegetable plants. This year, they planted herbs and ornamentals.

“We started the garden last year,” Harleman said. “We are still nurturing it.”

The pocket park project allows individuals to participate in a community service project and connect to the earth and each other.

“We planted lavender, yarrow, dill and lamb’s ear,” Harleman shared. “We will harvest and dry them at the studio and utilize the herbs and to make decorative wreaths.”

In the fall, they plan to learn flower pounding and make dyes from the flowers and plants.

Art and nature come together at the pocket park. Harleman is the director of Verve Vertu Art Studio and enjoys combining service opportunities with an art project. The studio’s affiliation with The Gathering Place has provided many opportunities to participate in classes and projects.

“We do many projects with The Gathering Place in Clarks Summit. Dori Waters has been so instrumental and wants to make sure everyone has viable opportunities. We want to stress how important community-based projects and initiatives are. That’s why we love partnering with the Gathering place. We love to partner with like-minded organizations,” Harleman said. “It’s been a positive experience for everyone.”

Verve Vertu Art Studio is a community-based facility that seeks ways to collaborate with people who want to tap into their creativity. When a project presents itself that marries community service and creativity, it’s a fit for The Deutsch Institute’s Verve Vertu Studio artists.

“We want everyone to have a rich experience,” Harleman said. “We try to offer a diverse group of people diverse experiences to enrich their lives.”

The Deutsch Institute, which celebrates 30 years in Northeast Pennsylvania this year, works to make a difference through serving.

“We go where we need to be and where our services will make a difference,” Harleman said.

Community beautification projects make a huge difference. The plants in the garden bed this year were grown in Clarks Summit State Hospital’s green house. Harleman’s group of artists and hard-working volunteers continue a project started last year when they were asked to partner with the Keystone College Environmental Studies Program. Funded by a grant from the Scranton Area Foundation they added beauty and life to The Finish Shop Pocket Park on Depot Street.

“It was a good fit for us,” Harleman said. “We decided to continue it this year. Projects like this one are meant to give viability and involve people in the community. It also shows us that the arts can be so much more. Gardening is an art.”

For more information on The Deutsch Institute or Verve Vertu Art Studio, visit deutschinstitute.org.