NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Local gardening enthusiasts are invited to put their green thumbs to use to help break down barriers in our community.
Community Missions and Saint James United Methodist Church in Niagara Falls are looking for volunteers to work in the Gardens of Compassion raised beds this summer.
The program grows food for the Community Missions soup kitchen and the children enrolled in the Little Wonders Early Childhood Development Center at Saint James, who have the chance to watch it all grow.
The volunteers all work alongside clients in the Community Missions mental health programs, offering those clients a chance to integrate into the community while they receive mental health treatment, and offering everyone a chance to tear down some of the stigmas that are associated with mental illness.
“One of the problems that individuals living with mental illness face is the stigma that comes along with it, and really the best way to break that down is to be part of a project like this, to get out and understand that our neighbors with mental illness are our neighbors, actually. They are people with us that we see every day,” explained Rev. Mark Breese, agency minister for Community Missions. “One in four people is going to experience a mental illness in their lifetime, and this is just an opportunity to reduce some of that unnecessary fear.”
All summer long, volunteers will meet every Wednesday between 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to tend to the gardens and for other activities, including workshops on healthy eating from the Cornell Cooperative Extension and presentations on caring for creation from different cultural perspectives. Representatives from the Seneca Nation and Temple Beth El are among those who are scheduled to speak. Organizers say they also have arranged for live music performances during some of the weekly meetings.
Volunteers are also needed to come to the garden beds at other times during the week to water the plants as they grow.
“Many hands make lighter work, certainly, so we need many volunteers to come out and it should be an exciting time,” said Christian Hoffman, the communications and development manager for Community Missions. “We do have the raised beds, which should make it easier for not having to bend over and weed and water so much, so it should be a fun way to get involved.”
In addition to the call for volunteers, Community Missions is also asking for donations to help this initiative thrive. As it is, the partnerships between Community Missions, Saint James UMC, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Seneca Nation, Temple Beth El, Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo and Greenprint Niagara have been critical to the ongoing success of Gardens of Compassion project.