By ALLY ANDERSON
Stephens College graduate student Rachel Penn, 36, is a new neighbor in the Benton-Stephens community.
Rachel was drawn to Benton-Stephens area for its location near the Stephens campus, her job downtown, and the availability of a roommate in the neighborhood. Two of the things she really likes about the Benton-Stephens district are “the friendly neighbors and wonderful sense of community.”
Rachel is working on a counseling degree and license in marriage and family counseling. She said she always felt her life purpose was to help others. Initially, she wanted to help people by becoming a lawyer. In fact, she did receive a law degree, from MU in 2004, but life prompted her to pursue counseling instead.
“I faced a lot of loss at a young age, death of close friends, my father, all by the time I was 15, and years later, good counseling helped me overcome that,” she said. “That has brought me to want to help people by going into counseling.”
Despite the serious nature
of her ambitions, there is a lighthearted side to Rachel. She enjoys sewing, reading nonfiction and yoga, though she admits this is new and she is not very good at it yet.
In addition to this, Rachel likes dancing and going out to hear live music. She thinks that her neighbors would be surprised to learn she has a “somewhat obnoxious sense of humor.”
She also loves to travel. She’s been to Wales, Paris and Italy.
Rachel was was a seasonal park naturalist, for five years starting at 19, at Montauk State Park and in Knob Noster; this led to her learning more about urban agriculture in Kansas City.
When she first heard that the Benton-Stephens neighbors had a community garden, Rachel signed up right away. Gardening is one of her favorite hobbies, and she is excited about the prospect of working in the community garden to “make sure there are a lot of gorgeous flowers attracting butterflies.”
She has very good luck with flowers. Marigolds, zinnias, sunflowers and cosmos are her favorites. She’s growing lilies at home.
The zinnias were hard to grow, she said, noting that they do better in the ground than in containers. She loves petunias but can’t seem to get them to grow from seeds.
Rachel said she wants to learn about moving to vegetable gardening — finding out growing methods and the harvest timing. She hopes to take the master’s gardening class at MU extension. The class meets every weekend to discuss gardening techniques. Some summer vegetables she hopes to plant are melons and sweet potatoes, possibly zucchini and squash.
Rachel would also like to cucumbers so she can make her own pickles. Some of her favorites to grow are radishes, turnips and other root vegetables. She would like to grow pumpkins so she can have her own jack-o’-lanterns for the fall.
She said she likes weeding the garden because it calms her, helping her overcome her test anxieties. Rachel signed up to help water the gardens as part of her duties.
Although it is the garden that interests her most at this time, she is interested to find out about other neighborhood projects.
Imbued with community spirit, Rachel is a good neighbor and likes to help others. She says that she is amenable to helping her neighbors by pet-sitting their dogs or cats on the weekends. She does not have any pets of her own at this time, but she loves dogs and cats and is around on the weekends. Rachel plans to be a part of the Benton-Stephens community indefinitely, which will depend on where she is placed for her supervised hours as a counselor-in-training. She does not feel motivated to leave after she graduates from school in December 2012.
Rachel doesn’t think she’ll ever stop gardening. She hopes to get families to do gardening when they come in for counseling.
“It is very therapeutic,” she said. “I want to couple up counseling and gardening. “