Flowers from the Heart
On Sunday afternoons, the studio behind Jennifer Slaughter's home in Birmingham, Ala., resembles Santa's workshop. Only instead of toys, there are buckets and buckets filled with vibrant flowers. This is where several hundred stems arrive each week after they have made appearances at weddings, galas, receptions, and other festivities, and then are donated for Jennifer to repurpose into beautiful new flower arrangements. When she is done, they will all be delivered to terminally ill patients in hospice care.
This is the mission of Perenity, the flower ministry Jennifer began in 2000, at first using flowers from her own spectacular garden and later incorporating flowers donated by event planners, florists, and hosts. Today Perenity delivers arrangements to nearly 200 hospice patients a week through a local, nonprofit hospice provider, New Beacon. Each patient continues to receive fresh arrangements until the time of their passing.
"When you receive a flower, whether it's an apology or to celebrate an anniversary or whatever the occasion, it just makes you happy," Jennifer says, explaining what she describes as the simple core of Perenity's mission. "You can imagine this very ill person in a dark time in their life, someone brings them flowers, and they're amazed that a stranger cared enough to make an arrangement for them. It lets them know they're not walking through this time alone."
Jennifer credits her husband Terry with coming up with the name of Perenity, a blend of the words "perennial" and "eternity." "If you really think about it, we are like perennial flowers," she says. "We set our roots in the ground, and although we die just as perennials do, we live for eternity, because our roots are still here."
As Perenity has grown and word has spread, people in 16 different states around the country have heard about it and started flower ministries of their own. One of these, Michele Bevington in Washington, D.C., took the idea and founded Freedom Petals a to deliver flowers to wounded military veterans. “She inspires me,” Jennifer says.
Another is Harriet Karro, who was a Perenity volunteer in Birmingham before she and her family relocated to Nashville. With Jennifer's blessing, she took both the name and the idea along with her and started Perenity Nashville about seven years ago, providing flowers to hospice patients as well as the Ronald McDonald House, Meals on Wheels, nursing homes and more.
Operating out of an old pony barn in her backyard that Harriet converted into a flower studio, Perenity Nashville's volunteers can come and go 24/7, not just to deliver and arrange flowers but also to wash vases and do the other nitty-gritty work that is also vital to the mission.
"I always tell people, if you like to arrange flowers, come when you can; if you like to deliver flowers, come when you can; if you like to scrub dirty vases, come and let me kiss your forehead!" Harriet says.
She adds that she never would have conceived of the flower ministry on her own, and she feels privileged to be able to expand the reach of the Slaughters’ mission.
"For me to have been introduced to what Jennifer was doing at what turned out to be a pivotal moment in my life, and then be able to bring this meaningful ministry to Nashville, is such a blessing to me."
Jennifer feels blessed, as well. She says one of the best Mother's Day presents she's ever received her family was a set of car keys—not to a new Mercedes, but a cargo van to help her collect and deliver flowers. "You would have thought they'd given me a diamond ring!" she says. "I was so excited."
Though Perenity has evolved into a full-time endeavor with a demanding, often hectic schedule, Jennifer says the moments she relishes most are the quiet ones spent arranging flowers alone. "I like the time when it's just me and the flowers everywhere," she says. "It's more of a personal ministry, working on-on-one with the flowers, wondering where each arrangement is going to go when I'm done with it."
For a few of these, she knows exactly where they will go. New Beacon pairs Jennifer with just one hospice patient at a time, and for that person she personally delivers arrangements each week as long as he or she lives, developing close bonds and keeping her grounded in the fundamental purpose behind Perenity.
For many more, she will never meet them in person but feels a connection with them nonetheless—such as the daughter who sends an anonymous note thanking Jennifer for making her mother smile, or the many patients who request that when they pass away, their own funeral flowers be donated to Perenity so they can bring joy to others.
Then there is one Auburn fan she will always remember. At Christmas time, Jennifer decorates well over 400 small, personalized Christmas trees, each one reflecting a special interest of the recipient. One was for an indigent hospice patient with no home or family around him as he lived his last days. Jennifer made him an Auburn-themed tree. "He loved it so much," she says. "I found later that when he passed away, he was actually buried with this tree. It was the only possession he had.
"You don't know what little thing you can do to impact somebody's life, at the end of their life," she continues quietly. "I have so many stories like that. It's powerful."
JENNIFER SLAUGHTER is a Regions customer.