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Company Helps Employees Turn Over New Leaf

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When the disabled get a chance to work and earn money, they might just turn over "a new leaf." A greenhouse in Broken Arrow gives the developmentally disabled that chance and the community benefits through the works of beauty they produce.

Eddie Balentine cares for a section of plants in the greenhouse, mostly aloe vera and peace lilies. He's 23 and started working with plants right after high school. "I do my watering, take care of all my plants, and pick up all the dead leaves," he said. "I'm a real busy man today."

Balentine is working and earning money, despite a disability that would prevent him from working at most jobs. "A New Leaf" employs 28 developmentally disabled people, giving them the chance to work and provide a product the community wants. They sell hundreds of poinsettias at Christmas, along with all kinds of house and landscape plants year-round.

Donations to the United Way provide about a fourth of the company's budget, helping support an operation that might not survive otherwise. "Anything that we would have to do when we work is what we train our workers to do," said assistant director Bettina Larsen. "We have workers whose self-esteem has increased and self confidence has increased. I like seeing people achieve things that others didn't think they could achieve, and we see that here a lot," she said.

The training in the greenhouse gives the employees skills that could apply in other jobs. Some people choose to stay here, but others leave to work elsewhere, turning over a new leaf on their own. The retail business at A New Leaf is growing. But the income is not enough to support itself. The agency counts on donations to the United Way to help it help others.

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