While attending the annual Mid-Atlantic Horticultural Therapy Network’s conference on Staten Island at Snug Harbor, I had the pleasure of listening to keynote Patricia Schrieber reflect on her 30+ years of working on a myriad of community greening projects in various roles at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. She began her presentation by asking the crowd of (mostly) horticultural therapists what communities they belonged to. It seemed like providence had pulled my chair up to this discussion, as I have been putting a lot of thought, and action, into the communities in my little world recently.
In my personal life there have been some major shifts toward cultivating community, such as changing churches. This was a big decision, but one that has already begun to enhance our spiritual lives. Our family is also working with new friends to rebuild our local Cub Scout troop, and we’re strengthening connections with the families from our pack. My role within a professional group has also begun to blossom, as have relationships with my peers in this community. Encounters with these various groups in my life leave me feeling uplifted and sometimes inspired.
So why is community so important and how do we create or fit into these groups? These are questions I have been spending a lot of mental energy on! This is what I’ve come up with: with every shared event or meeting, conversation, email, joke, you name it, community is built. It takes effort, meaningful effort, to form or fit into a group or community. Let’s face it, you have to get past the pleasantries, vague greetings and role of acquaintance before you can move forward and build real connections through shared experiences that make you begin to feel that wonderful feeling, the one that makes you know that you belong. Isn’t this what, as humans, we all want?
Over the past few weeks there has been a new feeling of community for me at Green Chimneys too. We happen to be a finalist for an international grant for therapeutic gardens, but in order to walk away with the grand prize, we have to garner all the support we can from our colleagues, friends and families to vote our way to winning.
Every day as I make my way around campus, various people call out to me that “I voted!” or “I’m voting from here and my home computer!” or “I shared your voting post on my Facebook page!” The icing on the cake though was this: a class of students filed past me into our gazebo shortly after the voting had begun. As they did, each one had something to say, like “My family voted!” or “We called everyone and told them to vote.” At first I didn’t know what they were talking about, then it quickly dawned on me that they were talking about our garden grant. But how? How did they know about this online contest? It was early in the voting, and I hadn’t asked the kids to ask their parents to vote. (Though in retrospect, why not?) Turns out their teacher made a flyer including the link and a short explanation of the project and sent every one his students home with the info. Thank you, Mr. Dalpe!
This really blew me away, and I’m not being overly dramatic when I tell you that tears came to my eyes that afternoon. It sunk in that outside of me, people are mobilizing to help support our garden program. Like our Occupational Therapy team, who worked with their students to create a postcard size flyer on the computer, calculate quantities, make photocopies, cut apart flyers and distribute them to every class in our school. There’s a group of people really rooting for us and our garden. Probably you! It makes me realize that I belong to an amazing community of people who support and truly understand the importance of diverse learning opportunities, horticultural education and the simple yet powerful role of nature in our lives.