As we look forward to welcoming the fall season, UA is taking the time to celebrate three network partners that leveraged a community gardening toolkit to enhance their programming over the summer. UA’s community gardening toolkits are customized to the needs and goals of each program that receives one. The toolkits include everything from soil and seeds to watering cans and gardening gloves. And, just as each toolkit is unique to each program, the impact of each garden on the people served has been unique, too.

Siena Learning Center is an educational ministry located in New Britain that seeks to provide a holistic approach to literacy for underserved adult learners with a special emphasis on English as a Second Language. ESL for adult learners is offered through free, one-on-one tutoring. By utilizing a community gardening toolkit, Siena Learning Center was able to introduce a space that creatively celebrates the talents and cultures of the various nationalities represented by their learners. The garden offered a new way for learners to connect and build community outside of the classroom. As Nancy Rodriguez, Director of Siena Learning Center shared, “The garden features the learners and their talents, and brings so much joy and is so therapeutic for everyone.

The community garden maintained by Building Healthy Families, with support from UA’s community garden toolkit materials, has proven to be a vibrant space for serving families that participate in their educational programming for parents and caregivers of young children. The garden not only provides the perfect environment for teaching families about proper nutrition, but also offers a beautiful atmosphere for outdoor activities. Beyond the people served through Building Healthy Families’ programming, the garden has attracted other community members and organizations to get involved and participate in the gardening.

And, although it’s easy to see the tangible benefits of gardens –we can cook, eat, and enjoy the fruits and vegetables grown in a community garden– the intangible benefits are just as important and impactful. For the women served by Coram Deo Recovery, an organization that provides safe, structured, and sober housing for those struggling with addiction and abuse, tending a garden has become a living metaphor for growth, change, and transformation. According to Stephanie Solomon-Williams, a Recovery Case Manager at Coram Deo, “The purpose of the garden is to provide therapy for the heart and mind. Coram Deo Recovery’s outdoor gardens spaces were specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs of its clients and staff. The hope is to help our clients reduce stress, anxiety, boredom and achieve quieting of the mind as they reconnect with nature. Our gardens are fenced for privacy. It’s sunny, surrounded by luscious green lawns, trees that sway in the wind as birds sing into the air and a Patio area with a fire pit that can be used. In the patio area clients can sit at any time of the day. They can sit and sip on coffee or any beverage as they read their 12-step program book or have lunch, and as the day comes to an end relax and watch the sun set. The clients of Coram Deo recovery are invited to be a part of the grooming and upkeep of the gardens. The clients can plant a flower or vegetable, pick a flower or vegetable, water the plants or just sit and look at the growth of the garden.” As fruits and vegetables that were harvested made it into the kitchens of the multiple homes managed by Coram Deo, program participants spent time cooking as a productive and rewarding activity, and discovered and shared new recipes with each other.

From these examples, it’s clear that community gardens can provide common ground for learning, relationship-building, and healing. With a humble toolkit of supplies, many lives were changed for the better. You can multiply your impact by donating to UA, which makes it possible for us to provide these transformational toolkits. We are better together!

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