Jul. 22—LEWISTON — Ian Rittall, 7, of Lewiston had his growing love of gardening tested this week.
An online post by his father, Devan, however, quickly planted hope. It also cultivated an appreciation for all the strangers in his community who reached out to help.
At the end of the school year, Ian and his classmates received sunflower seeds to bring home and grow over the summer. He was enthralled with watching it sprout from seed, watering it, turning it on his windowsill every day, replanting it, and moving it outside. He even gave it the name Ryan and watched it grow taller than himself.
But on Monday morning, when he and his sister went outside to help bring in groceries, he noticed the stalk was bent in half and the plant was wilting. Devastated, he ran inside to tell his parents, who tried to console him.
"He was hysterically crying," his mother, Katie, said. "Neither one of us has a green thumb and we know nothing about gardening so we Googled what to do."
They took electrical tape and sticks to mend the break and prop it up. It wasn't long before they realized the damage was so severe and it would not survive.
Devan Rittall posted the story on the Lewiston Rocks Facebook page and asked if anyone had a sunflower they might be willing to sell.
"Almost immediately we started reading positive comments, suggestions and got personal messages offering to donate sunflowers from their gardens," Rittall said. "Nobody wanted anything in return. We even had one person donate a growing kit for next year. It just reaffirms my belief in how great this community is."
Their first stop was Tasha Vintinner's small backyard garden in Auburn.
"I read the post and it broke my heart," she said. "I just had to help. I know how good it feels to watch them grow, and to read about this young boy's heart being broken, I had to step up."
When the Rittals arrived she told them to pick as many as they wanted to dig up and take home. Ian immediately picked a small one out front and the biggest one in the back of the garden.
Vintinner's daughter, Keisha, grabbed a trowel and dug as Ian held the stalk. Katie Rittall carefully carried it to their car.
Noticing Ian's sister, Sydney, admiring some large lilies, Vintinner turned to her and asked if she would like some flowers. Sydney looked at her mother for approval and beamed when the mother said yes. Soon she was skipping back to the car with a handful of pretty flowers and some sunflowers before the family headed to Lewiston for the next stop.
Felicia McLeod also read the post and figured it was an opportunity to pay back some kindness and teach a lesson to her young boys, who had their basketball hoop stolen a short time ago.
"I posted my frustration at what happened on social media and the next day someone delivered a new one to our house," she said. "I saw an opportunity to give back and lead by example. It's what community is all about," she said as she waited on her front porch for the Rittalls to arrive.
There were three large plants on McLeod's porch waiting for them. In addition to the sunflowers, she gave them brown-eyed susans, something perfect for the youngster to get his garden going.
After scrolling through Devan's Facebook profile to check out the family, McLeod was touched by the recent medical issues he had been dealing with and added a potted Angle Prayer plant for good measure.
Time will tell if the plants flourish at the Rittalls' home, but it's certain that the outpouring of love, positive comments on social media and community support have germinated a sense of pride in this family's community and has given a young boy hope and a growing hobby.