Monday, November 18, 2019

Watch Them Blossom: At N Street Village Homeless Women Create Floral Art by John Kelly

Floral Art Is Therapy!Kaifa Anderson-Hall, center, with participants in her monthly flower-arranging class at N Street Village. From left: Tracy Lincoln, Ellen Dunn, Belva Moore, Kitty Kohli, Cheryl Hill and Angel Langston-Finch. The “Flower Power Hour” class is popular with clients of N Street Village, which serves women experiencing homelessness. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Kaifa Anderson-Hall, center, with participants in her monthly flower-arranging class at N Street Village. From left: Tracy Lincoln, Ellen Dunn, Belva Moore, Kitty Kohli, Cheryl Hill and Angel Langston-Finch. The “Flower Power Hour” class is popular with clients of N Street Village, which serves women experiencing homelessness. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)         November 12, 2019 at 12:31 p.m. EST
The first rule of Flower Power Hour is there are no rules. Be as creative as you can be, go where your spirit leads, create a flower arrangement that speaks to you.
The second rule of Flower Power Hour is to cut the stems at an angle before putting them in the vase. The third rule is to trim away any leaves that would be below the water.
But it’s the first rule — lose yourself in the beauty of the blooms — that is most important to the ladies who come to Flower Power Hour, a monthly class at N Street Village, a charity near Logan Circle that helps women experiencing homelessness.
It’s a Monday afternoon, and 16 women are seated at work tables in an open room on the second floor of N Street Village. A blue-handled pair of shears is at each space. The air is thick with the scent from hundreds of blooms.
Kaifa Anderson-Hall holds a bouquet made by clients at N Street Village. “Wherever we are, there needs to be beauty,” she tells participants. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Kaifa Anderson-Hall holds a bouquet made by clients at N Street Village. “Wherever we are, there needs to be beauty,” she tells participants. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
“This is how I love this room to be, filled to capacity,” says Kaifa Anderson-Hall, who leads the class.
Sixty-two bundles of flowers — lilies, roses, tulips, dahlia, marigolds, alstroemeria, ranunculus — have been donated by Urban Stems, a florist just up the street.
Anderson-Hall puts the song “Something Inside So Strong” on her iPhone then says, “Come up, get your flowers. Take the opportunity to be as present as possible.”
The women move around the table, selecting blossoms. Someone asks how many flowers they should use. “It’s up to you,” Anderson-Hall says.
Anderson-Hall is the founder of Plants and Blooms ReImagined, a nonprofit that provides horticultural therapy using repurposed arrangements left over after events such as wedding and luncheons. She started volunteering at N Street Village in April. 
It can seem like an indulgence — homeless women arranging flowers? — but it’s in keeping with one of N Street Village’s core principles: Just because a person is at a low point in her life, it doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be treated with dignity and respect.
“Wherever we are, there needs to be beauty,” Anderson-Hall says.
Hotels and restaurants have fresh flowers. Why shouldn’t you see fresh flowers in the place where women can come for a free meal, a shower, a washing machine?
“You’re going to be surprised where you started and where you end up,” Anderson-Hall says.
She’s talking about the cumulative process of creating a flower arrangement: adding flower after flower until something tells you you’re done. But it seems like a metaphor for N Street Village, how it lets women move at their own pace until, hopefully, they have left the streets behind.
The class is just one of many offered at the charity, a list that includes sewing, yoga, arts and crafts. Clients carry with them a sheet of paper that’s signed each time they complete an activity. By doing five activities and a chore each week, they are allowed to use Bethany Women’s Day Center on the weekend.
It’s a gentle way of encouraging buy-in from the ladies.
A woman pulls a yellow dahlia from a bucket. It immediately starts shedding petals. Anderson-Hall shows her a trick. She gently plucks the outer pedals from the stem — pluck, pluck, pluck — until she reaches the inner petals. These are still firmly attached.
She’s exposed the pale green star-shaped structure that holds the petals in place. It’s pleasing in its own way.
Even here, Anderson-Hall finds a metaphor.
“We see our outer, but we don’t see our inner, unfortunately,” she says. “What we typically don’t see is beautiful.”
After an hour, 16 once-empty vases now explode with blossoms. I’m amazed at how many stems the women have been able to fit into each container. The results remind me of the Dutch Master still-lifes known as pronkstilleven.
“All the flowers work to support each other,” says Anderson-Hall.
At a table in the back, a woman in a red knit cap has made an arrangement that, to me, resembles her. The display is squat and compact. So is she. She has a red knit cap atop her head. The arrangement has a spray of red hypericum berries. There are the pompoms of “green trick” dianthus and the tight petals of crimson ranunculus. Above the main grouping are stems of silver dollar eucalyptus, the pale flat leaves resembling treads on a cantilevered stairway.
It’s an arrangement that wouldn’t look out of place at a high-end florist.
“I would put them in my home,” the woman says, admiring her creation. “But I don’t have a home.”

You can help

N Street Village is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand. If you’d like to support the work it does, visit posthelpinghand.com and click “Donate.” To donate by mail, make a check payable to “N Street Village” and send it to N Street Village, Attn: Helping Hand, 1333 N St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20005.
Twitter: @johnkelly
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.