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BloomAgainBklyn Celebrates Three ‘Human Flowers’

May 3, 2022 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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When BloomAgainBklyn holds its “Spring Fling” gala event on May 18th, three women who represent “beautiful flowers of humanity” will be recognized for their contributions to Brooklyn and beyond. BloomAgainBklyn is a nonprofit organization committed to reducing social isolation and loneliness among vulnerable populations by creating conversations and connections through repurposed flowers.

BloomAgain will be honoring Martha Kamber, President and CEO of the YWCA Brooklyn, for her lifelong dedication and achievements as an advocate for women rights and social justice. Sally Bates Lawson, BloomAgain volunteer, will be recognized for her more than five decades of exemplary volunteerism on behalf of dozens of Brooklyn community organizations.

The event’s special guest performer will be Broadway actress and singer Rebecca Naomi Jones, Brooklyn resident and the first woman of color to play Laurey in Oklahoma! which premiered at St. Ann’s Warehouse in DUMBO in 2018.

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All three women have strong connections to BloomAgainBklyn. The YWCA Brooklyn’s 300 residents, many of whom are former trauma and homelessness survivors, receive BloomAgain’s upcycled flowers regularly and participate in flower workshops. Sally Lawson, now in her early eighties, has been a steady BloomAgain volunteer for over five years. Rebecca Naomi Jones’ mom is BloomAgain’s official photographer and long- time friend of founder Caroline Gates Anderson, while the nonprofit’s director of operations – AJ Jonakait – is a close friend of Rebecca and former classmate at the Berkeley Carroll School in Park Slope.

BloomAgainBklyn’s volunteers upcycle unsold and once-used flowers for nursing home residents, homebound older adults, trauma and homelessness survivors, families in shelters, at-risk children and food pantry recipients. The organization, founded in 2014, has become a circle of “people helping people,” working side-by-side with more than 70 community organizations and growing each day. BloomAgain has a network of over 2,500 volunteers includes individuals and corporate volunteers, school-age children, community, and social service organizations and, most importantly, the people they serve who receive the flowers.

The gift of flowers is an emotional and healing experience connecting our volunteers with recipients letting them know that someone cares. BloomAgain has been bringing joy and hope through the healing power of repurposed flowers to over 70,000 New Yorkers in need since 2014. They have diverted more than 1.7 million flowers from the solid waste stream, creating 140,000+ floral arrangements for recipients. And they provide people with an opportunity to do the environmentally right thing.

Martha’s Mission: Acts of Radical Love

Martha Kamber. Courtesy of YWCA Brooklyn.

Eagle: You have done some extraordinary things for Brooklyn and in particular for women who are survivors of trauma and homelessness. Can you describe some special feelings you have seen between the YWCA residents and the volunteers working with BloomAgainBklyn?

Martha: Most of the 300 women we work with have overcome unimaginable adversity. They often do not have family support and are very much alone, especially our 120 seniors who are aging in place. For many, no one has ever made them feel valuable, worthy of love or joy. Caroline and her dedicated team of volunteers at BloomAgainBklyn have ensured every single YWCA Brooklyn resident is recognized and celebrated with the gift of beautiful fresh bouquets of flowers, each one made especially for them. This act of radical love has brought so much joy into the lives of our women.

Eagle: Your organization has a long history, more than a century of service to women in Brooklyn. How has the YWCA Brooklyn embraced a working relationship with the fresh brand new idea that is BloomAgainBklyn?

Martha: Since 1888, the YWCA Brooklyn has been dedicated to supporting and empowering Brooklyn’s most vulnerable women. We remain an anchor in the community, the last holdout in a gentrifying neighborhood, and our success is only as strong as our partnerships. BloomAgainBklyn stands out among all the others because they are equally dedicated to serving marginalized communities. Caroline is dynamic, committed, warm and enthusiastic. It’s a delight to work with her and her team.

Eagle: Have you seen a unique enthusiasm among your residents who look forward to receiving the fresh flowers? To what would you attribute this enthusiasm?

Martha: Definitely – BloomAgainBklyn makes everyone feel special and for so many of our residents, that impact is immeasurable.

Eagle: To what extent do you think your two organizations are aligned?

Martha: There’s great synergy between our organizations. Our missions are aligned in that we build community among those we serve.  We have worked together to support seniors, immigrant families as well as our residents through healing flower workshops.   BloomAgain even delivered flowers during Covid!

Martha Kamber: Martha Kamber has been the Chief Executive Officer and President of the YWCA Brooklyn for the past 15 years where she built over 300 units of affordable, permanent homes for low-income women and homeless survivors of domestic violence, as well as a new Social Justice Community Center dedicated to gender equity and racial justice. She led the development of the organization’s college access, immigrant services, economic empowerment, wellness and trauma-informed community programs, and is a recognized leader for racial justice and gender equality advocacy. Martha has over 35 years of nonprofit management experience and has worked extensively in the areas of women’s empowerment, gender-based violence prevention, affordable housing, public health, education and advocacy.  She is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the 2018 Public Service Award from the Brooklyn Borough President and the Shirley Chisholm Woman of Distinction Award from the New York City Council. 

Sally’s Service For A Brooklyn Lifetime

Sally Bates Larson. Photo courtesy of BloomAgainBklyn.

Eagle: You have been working as a staff member or volunteer for extraordinary organizations that serve people for more than a half century in Brooklyn. Can you tell us your special feelings for BloomAgainBklyn? And how it differs from other organizations you have worked for ?

Sally: BloomAgainBklyn is such a unique organization that I have had the privilege to work with. Working with flowers and gardening has always been something that I enjoy and am very passionate about. When I discovered BloomAgainBklyn I felt that I had hit the jackpot. The combination of working with flowers, volunteering with such wonderful people, and knowing that our flower arrangements were going to make other peoples lives a little better was very gratifying. Every organization has its mission and passion and I have been blessed to be part of so many of them in Brooklyn Heights. My hat goes off to the founders of BloomAgainBklyn for a long overdue concept of repurposing flowers.

Eagle: Many articles and reports have been written that verify the positive impact fresh flowers have on human psyche and mood. Can you tell us in your own words how it feels to work around flesh flowers at Bloom Again Brooklyn , and its impact on other people.

Sally: It has always been a miracle to me how fresh flowers can bring a smile, brighten the day and provide comfort to people in need.  It has been wonderful to work with so many different volunteers at BloomAgainBklyn. Knowing that the flowers that would have been thrown away are being used to bring people together through volunteerism and to cheer people up is truly a gift.

Eagle: How would you describe the special feeling of ‘village’ in Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill? Have you seen changes that you can describe , and what has not changed?

Sally: I have enjoyed living in Brooklyn Heights for over 60 years. While some things have changed over the years, for me it has remained largely the same.  Brooklyn Heights is a great place to raise a family and the sense of community is strong.

Sally Bates Larson: A Brooklyn resident for over 60 years, Sally is being recognized for decades of exemplary volunteerism on behalf of numerous Brooklyn community organizations including BloomAgainBklyn, Plymouth Church, Brooklyn Women’s Exchange, Brooklyn Heights Garden Club, Sheltering Arms, Mrs. Fields, Grace Church, Packer Collegiate Institute (PTA President & Trustee), Heights and Hills (founding member), New England Society in the City of Brooklyn and others.

Sally Bates Larson and BloomAgainBklyn volunteers. Photo courtesy of BloomAgainBklyn.

Rebecca’s Reminders: Find Memorable Beauty

Rebecca Naomi Jones. Photo courtesy of BloomAgainBklyn.

Eagle: I think we speak for all Brooklynites when we say that this special place is proud to call you a ‘native daughter’.  With two extraordinary artists as parents, you seemed destined from an early age to be a bright light on the path you have chosen.  Can you tell us your feelings about why Bloom Again Brooklyn is also a bright light in Brooklyn and do you have any special connections to BloomAgain?

Rebecca: It’s easy for many of us to feel isolated even in a busy, populated borough. Bloom Again Brooklyn’s mission to create connection through the giving of repurposed flowers is a beautiful reminder that there is good in the world and that we are far from alone. That, and the fact that it’s environmentally friendly make it a huge bright light in Brooklyn!

I do have a couple of very special connections to the organization: my mom, Susan Rosenberg Jones and  Founder Caroline Gates Anderson have known each other for years from the photography world; a good friend of mine whom I’ve known since high school AJ Jonakait is the Director of Operations!

Eagle: In the same way that fresh flowers have been proven in studies to be a human spirit lifter, can you tell us some of the key elements in a song that always move you?…and give us a couple of examples?

Rebecca: I am always moved when a lyric in a song reveals something deeply vulnerable about its subject- something that feels personal to them but rings as universal to the listener, and makes me think “wow I’ve never been able to articulate it that way but I feel that too”. Passing Strange – a musical written by Brooklynites Stew and Heidi Rodewald- is full of those Aha! lyrics.

Eagle: In a free-flow way, can you name a few things about Brooklyn that are your favorites?  If you could wave a magic wand and change a few things about Brooklyn, what would they be ?

Rebecca: I love that so much of Brooklyn still feels neighborly- people look out for each other, look each other in the eye, say hello. Great walks. Brownstones are beautiful! Greenwood Cemetery! The bridge! The parks. Hmm if I could wave that magic wand, I’d say “the rent is too damn high!”.

Rebecca Naomi Jones, Broadway Actress and Singer: Rebecca Naomi Jones is best known for her performances in the Broadway rock musicals Passing Strange, American Idiot, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, as well as being the first woman of color to play Laurey in Oklahoma!  Daughter of a Jewish mother and African-American father who was vocal coach for doo-wop and oldies acts, Rebecca performed in the children’s chorus of the Metropolitan Opera as a child and graduated from the Berkeley Carroll School in Brooklyn. Her film credits include The Big Sick and Ordinary World, and she has appeared in the television series  Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll,” “Inside Amy Schumer, “Blue Bloods,” among others.  She is a resident of Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

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