February 15, 2010 / 10:02 PM / 7 years ago

The women who turn their lives around with flower power

3 Min Read

<p>Marisa Chappell makes a bouquet, to be handed to an Olympic athlete, at a flower shop in Surrey, B.C. February 15, 2010. Chappell started the slide to a world of drugs and addiction when she was 10 years old, entering a spiral that she never thought would end. Today, clean for 2-1/2 years, the 20-year-old mother is making green-on-green victory bouquets for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in what she herself admits is a remarkable turnaround.Chris Helgren</p>

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Marisa Chappell started the slide to a world of drugs and addiction when she was 10 years old, entering a spiral that she never thought would end.

Today, clean for 2-1/2 years, the 20-year-old mother is making victory bouquets for the Winter Olympic Games in what she herself admits is a remarkable turnaround.

"It's amazing, working with flowers," Chappell said at the Just Beginnings flower shop that is making 1,800 victory bouquets for the Vancouver Olympics and the Paralympic Games. "I never respected flowers before I started here."

Marisa is now only a temporary worker for Just Beginnings in Surrey, an often run-down suburb of Vancouver, and she is more focused on her one-year-old son and her day job with Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons.

But the former user of heroin and crystal meth is one of many helped by the shop, a not-for-profit organization which shares a building with the Surrey's Phoenix Society for drug and alcohol recovery.

"We're taking women who are marginalized and at risk," said florist June Strandberg, who runs the training program.

"They start designing flower arrangements on their first day, and I've never had anyone for whom it didn't work. It's the flowers that do it."

Strandberg used to run a training course for would-be florists in a British Columbia woman's prison, but switched to the Just Beginnings store when the prison closed in 2004.

She pairs the at-risk women with more regular workers, including some who may simply be looking for a new career, and waits to see the change.

The bouquets use yellow-green spider mums and purple-green hypericum berries from British Columbia. The foliage comes from Ecuador because no local grower could supply that much greenery in February.

"It's green like British Columbia," said Bettina Fuchs, who joined the training program after she was invalided out of the Canadian military with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Asked why she had switched careers that way, she paused and smiled. "I wanted to pick something that would give my mind something beautiful to think about," she said.

Editing by Jon Bramley

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