Lori Hope is passionate about two things: gardening and special education – so passionate, in fact, that she combines them in a unique opportunity to bring the benefits of gardening to the disabled and the homebound. Enter Gardens4Hope, a non-profit that sends volunteers to the homes of the disabled and homebound to co-create gardens of their choice and teach them how to maintain them, all with the aim of promoting emotional, mental, and physical well-being.
Gardens4Hope is born of the philosophy that the disabled and homebound (like every other member of society) are worthy and deserving of purpose and a sense of belonging. As a survivor of domestic violence in her youth, Lori learned first-hand how vitally important having a sense of purpose and fellowship are to physical and emotional healing, as well as rebuilding one’s self-confidence and sense of community. Lori promotes a healthy respect for people to learn at their own pace and in their own way, and gathering is no exception. Some of our most interesting life lessons are learned through failure; not every seed or plant thrives. Gardening provides individuals with common ground for meaningful learning, development, and conversation….and the disabled and homebound are no exception.
How is it that Lori helps people to choose to shift their lives through the simple activity of gardening? By adopting the view that each one of the people she visits has the capacity to do something meaningful and that this can be achieved through patient and dedicated nurturing. With this in mind, volunteers guide clients on the journey of planting, tending, and harvesting. If a person is doing something that will potentially hinder the growth of the plant, the volunteers will provide thought-provoking prompts to challenge or provide alternative choices that will promote better results. In either case, cognitive functioning is improved because in addition to considering what plants, seeds, soils work well together and which don’t, the learning process provides for interesting conversation as well as strengthens one’s problem-solving skills.
There are also social and emotional components to these visits: rather than simply planting a garden and leaving, the volunteers engage the people in conversation and make follow-up visits as requested. The relationships fostered and social skills developed are significant factors in the lives of people for whom these are often limited. Lori will tell you from her days of as a teacher working with troubled youth that the impact of “…. choosing to take a chance to plant a seed and tending and nurturing it from seedling to maturity provides an incredible sense of purpose and is rewarding.” The hope inspired becomes somewhat of a lifeline for people seeking fellowship; faces beaming with pride and their visibly positive outlook on life plainly tell the happy story. Lori looks for the potential growth of people and of seeds, and this is reflected in the lives of those she has touched and the flourishing of once seed, now plant, she has watered.
Lori conceived the idea of Gardens4Hope as a way for the homebound and disabled to experience the positive emotional and physical impacts of gardening beyond simply strengthening hand and arm muscles (although this is reason enough to do it!). Through this outreach program she seeks not only to uplift people often relegated to the fringes of society, but also to reinforce the fact that they, too, are deserving of respect, joy and fulfillment in ways that accommodate their differences. As with gardening, healing is a process. However, you can be assured that growth and change will occur at its own pace.
Lori says it best when recalling one of the many life lessons she learned from her grandfather as a child while gardening at his side: “…you have to respect the plant and the growing process, you cannot rush a plant to root or sprout faster without consequences. Growth occurs at its own pace, in its own time. People are the same way.”