VA Hospital rooftop garden makes Syracuse veteran feel at home
The top of the downtown Syracuse veterans hospital is a therapeutic oasis for former service member Steve Kasprzycki. That’s where he cultivates his green thumb in a rooftop garden that boasts around 100 plants.
Kasprzycki said the garden allows him to step back and appreciate the small things in life.
“It’s pretty fascinating when you slow down and really look at the little stuff," he said.
The Syracuse VA Medical Center is celebrating 10 years of the garden that launched with SUNY ESF as part of the Veteran Therapeutic Horticulture Rooftop Garden program. It’s designed as an outdoor place for patients in the Community Living Center who are at the hospital long-term.
Becky Ross, chief of the Center for Development and Civil Engagement at the VA, said the garden serves an important purpose.
"This is a therapeutic garden," Ross said. "Every single plant that you see, and there’s gotta be 75 to 100 plants up here right now, every single one has been touched by a veteran. So, that’s why a lot of people come and think, ‘Oh it’s not pretty.’ It’s not supposed to be pretty, it’s supposed to be therapeutic.”
The rooftop garden transformed an empty outdoor space into a place to help patients grow and maintain their own gardens. The program began a decade ago under the direction of Lee Newman, the director of the environmental health major at ESF.
Newman said it’s a great way to give back and show gratitude.
“Having the veterans be able to come up here and enjoy the program, you’re just giving back to people who deserve being helped," Newman said. "The veterans do most of the planting out here, we just assist them with it, but it’s really fantastic.”
Veteran Kasprzycki stays at the Syracuse VA Medical Center and frequently visits the rooftop garden. With the JMA Wireless Dome nearby and other famous Syracuse University buildings in clear sight, Kasprzycki calls the view from the rooftop garden the crown jewels of Syracuse.
Kasprzycki left Buffalo and came to the Syracuse VA for long-term care. He said he’s felt well supported at the facility.
“The intentions of VA, or their goal, is so different from private medicine I feel," Kasprzycki said. "Nobody’s gonna let you stay in a hospital for a year."
The Therapeutic Horticulture Rooftop Garden is where Kasprzycki participates in home-away-from-home activities. He said he enjoys working with the SUNY ESF students who help support the site, but joked that they shouldn’t try to overtake the gardening duties too much.