SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW: Greenhouses Produce More Than Holiday Foliage
With rich green leaves emerging from a smooth stem, large clusters of brilliant red bracts and a tiny center ring of yellow flowers, poinsettias could make an ideal gift this holiday season.But for Stentson Carpenter, CEO and founder of Rainbow Omega, which grows poinsettias in its greenhouses, the real gift comes when he sees what the organization provides for his son, Chris, who was born with brain damage, and for others with similar disabilities. It is a gift that will keep giving long after the last bract has fallen to the floor.”Seeing my son happy and for him to feel like he belongs makes it all worthwhile,” says Carpenter. “Not everyone wants to work with mentally handicapped people. But it is OK if this is all I ever do. It gives me purpose in life.”Rainbow Omega is a non-profit organization dedicated to serving developmentally disabled adults by providing residential care and employment opportunities. The vocational programs range from assembling owners’ manuals for cars produced at the Honda plant in the nearby town of Lincoln to sorting and packaging Sentinel Consumer Products such as cotton swabs.The aim of the program is to instill independence and work ethic while providing a paycheck to the residents of Rainbow Omega.
But there is another line of work that benefits more than just the residents. Nestled on 80 acres of countryside in Eastaboga, Rainbow Omega operates five greenhouses and several patches of land to produce flowers and plants for wholesale and retail. Every season brings a new variety of plants, but Greenhouse Director Daniel Colgrove says there is no doubt about the best-selling plant — poinsettias — seem to be a favorite among residents and community members alike. Resident Allen Parton says he likes poinsettias, especially when they get big, and he enjoys making poinsettia delivery trips. “It’s good to see people you don’t see all the time,” he said. “I like to go to big places.”According to Carpenter, demand is higher than what they can provide. “We sell out everything every year,” he says, fully expecting to run out of this year’s crop of 5,000 poinsettias.
Colgrove said churches are Rainbow Omega’s largest clients when it comes to poinsettias because they are frequently used to decorate sanctuaries during the holiday season.In addition to providing employment and revenue, the greenhouse operation provides residents with a sense of self-esteem. “They’ve grown that plant and they are proud of it,” said Carpenter. “Everyone should be proud of what they do.”Resident Gene Patrick says he enjoys working in the greenhouses. “Some people are scared that they will make the plants die but not me,” he said. “I’m good with plants.”Carpenter takes pride in the Rainbow Omega’s high-quality plants. “People tell me they still have their plants from last year,” he said. “I want people to buy from us because we have quality products.”Rainbow Omega began as a dream for Carpenter after Chris’s birth. Carpenter knew that he and his wife, Dianne, would not live forever and wanted to know that Chris would be taken care of when they were gone. “In addition to being the motivation for Rainbow Omega, Chris gives us direction in life. He is our purpose,” said Carpenter.”My dream was to have a quality program that most families could afford. We offer a quality life. One of our main purposes is to give them a good social life. Friends are a big deal here,” said Carpenter. “When they leave Rainbow Omega for a visit elsewhere, they usually are ready to come back after just one night because they miss their friends.”Carpenter, or “Papa” as many of the 64 residents call him, made it clear he does not want people to view Rainbow Omega as a facility or an institution. “I want it to be known as a community or a subdivision. Some people who visit say they want to see the dorms. We don’t have dorms. We have homes.”In our subdivision, we have a lot of people with a lot of things in common. What makes them different is they can’t quite make it on their own. They need a little bit of help,” said Carpenter. “Our folks are young people in grown-up bodies. They have spirits that forgive a lot, love a lot and don’t hold grudges.”The organization’s name was derived from the rainbow, which is a sign of hope and the Greek symbol Omega. meaning “last” or “end.” This was combined to form the name Rainbow Omega, meaning “hope in the end.”Carpenter’s vision began to take shape in 1991 when Rainbow Omega was incorporated. The land was purchased two years later, and operations began in 1995 with two homes serving 16 residents and an annual budget of less than $25,000.The idea for a greenhouse vocational program blossomed in 1996. Carpenter, a former poultry farmer, had little horticulture experience. But after much research and planning, three greenhouses were constructed in the fall of 1999.Today Rainbow Omega operates on a $2.4 million budget and has grown to eight group homes with a ninth scheduled for completion next month, five state-of-the-art greenhouses, a vocational building, a respite care cottage, apartment complexes for staff housing and an administration building.Carpenter attributes the growth and success of Rainbow Omega to dedication of the staff and to people who believe in what the organization does.Former University of Alabama football coach Gene Stallings is one person who has continually demonstrated his belief in Rainbow Omega. Stallings serves as a consultant and is actively involved in many of the organization?s fundraisers and activities. “Rainbow Omega provides a service that is greatly needed,” said Stallings, whose son, John Mark, has Down syndrome. “At Rainbow Omega, the children have a beautiful place to live, wonderful house parents, have jobs, get a check, go to WalMart and go to church. Most importantly, they have people who really care about them.”The holiday season is a popular time for giving and receiving presents, but at Rainbow Omega gifts flourish year-round.”Rainbow Omega should be commended for helping their residents develop horticultural skills and the pride that results. Through their efforts, Rainbow Omega is also showing Alabama another positive impact of its green industry on people’s lives,” said Brian Hardin, director of the Federation’s Greenhouse, Nursery and Sod Division. While poinsettias can make great gifts, Carpenter knows that sometimes the best presents are not ones that can be wrapped or even touched.”I know this isn’t the only thing in the world,” Carpenter said. “But it’s my world.” To learn more about Rainbow Omega’s services and greenhouse operations or to place an order, call (256) 831-0919 or visit the web site at