Photography provided by Bob Anderson
He felt its warmth on his skin, although he couldn’t see the sunshine. He couldn’t see the tree branches bending, but he felt the gentle breeze softly tickling his face. He couldn’t see the beautiful flowers in bloom around him, but he smelled their sweet fragrance and felt their plush petals when placed in his hands. And when she lifted him from his wheelchair and carefully laid him on a towel on a small patch of grass, he stretched out his hands, touched the blades of grass surrounding him and giggled. “Phenomenal” is how Rachel, a caregiver at St. Joseph Home of Cincinnati, once described a 3-year-old resident’s reaction to experiencing nature.
This summer, St. Joseph Home residents and respite guests have more opportunities than ever before to enjoy and benefit from the simple pleasures of the wonder-filled outdoors. Six acres in the northwest portion of the 33-acre campus have been transformed into The Green Space, offering a quarter-mile walking trail and a sensory lane, an enclosed picnic shelter, memorial garden, wetland-like areas and scenic overlooks.
Residents and their families, staff and The Green Space Project donors and funders attended the June 21 ribbon cutting, which included the dedication of the picnic shelter and memorial garden. The picnic shelter was dedicated in honor of Heddy Freese, grandmother of a longtime St. Joseph Home resident, and will be named “Oma’s Pavillion.”
Dan Connors, who has served as president and CEO at St. Joseph Home for 2 ½ years, could not be more pleased with the project and its positive impact.
“When I was new in my role as CEO, I met so many parents and guardians who said, ‘You have a beautiful 33-acre campus, all the people you serve use wheelchairs for mobility, but there is no place to walk residents in their wheelchairs.’”
Another issue just happened to surface at the same time – storm water was pooling on the northwest corner of the campus, creating mowing problems and other challenges. Landscaping the area was suggested as a means of curtailing water retention and doing away with the need for mowing.
“That’s when several of us thought, ‘Why not landscape the area and put a walking trail on it?’” Connors recalls. “The project has an element of a green initiative to it because it’s a better way to keep storm water from eventually flowing into Mill Creek, and at the same time it allows wild flowers to grow on our campus.”
The Green Space’s sensory lane consists of rumble strips, wind chimes, bells and other sensory and movement stimulators arranged at wheelchair-accommodating heights and designed for resident reachability. The enclosed picnic shelter provides a welcoming spot for residents, respite guests and their loved ones to make heartwarming memories. The memorial garden monument was built in recognition of St. Joseph Home residents who have passed.
The Green Space reflects the overall spirit of St. Joseph Home’s ministry and the mission of the facility’s founders, the Sisters of Charity. “One of the aspects of their mission statement is to care for creation, so The Green Space fits into that very well,” Connors adds. The walking path also symbolizes St. Joseph Home’s commitment to the concept of residents belonging to and engaging with the community at large.
“Many times, in our culture, people with developmental disabilities are cast aside to the margins. So, at the core of what we do is the conversation about making sure residents not only engage with the community but are acknowledged as gifted people with something to offer. It’s important we create space for that, and this project created an inviting space for our community where our residents will also participate. We use the language of belonging because it communicates that when people belong somewhere, they’re not just included, but recognized as valued contributors. And that’s important to us.”
In the past, coordinating trips to nearby parks often required extra staff and other transportation challenges. Thanks to the generous financial support of The Green Space Project, however, there is now a lovely park located right outside St. Joseph Home’s doors.
Donors to this project include The SC Ministry Foundation; The Farmer Family Foundation; The Helen G., Henry F., & Louise Tuechter Dornette Foundation-Fifth Third Bank, Trustee; The Sutphin Family Foundation; Josephine Schell Russell Charitable Trust-PNC Bank, Trustee; The John A. Schroth Family Charitable Trust-PNC Bank, Trustee; and 250 individuals.
“Because our residents use wheelchairs for mobility and require support for most of their daily living activities, they rarely, if ever, experience the world as most of us do,” notes Carrie Shoemaker, St. Joseph Home communications and grant manager. Movement, vision, hearing and cognitive limitations, constrained space, behavioral difficulties, perception issues and other problems create many barriers.
A multi-sensory environment like The Green Space, she explains, provides opportunities for breaking these barriers through varied optical, acoustic, olfactory and tactile stimuli. They generate relaxation and calmness, and time spent in such an environment increases concentration, alertness, creativity, communication and general awareness of the surrounding world. “Multi-sensory environments not only provide alternative and powerful forms of sensory stimulation for individuals previously isolated in their perceptual disabilities, they provide new ways of encouraging motor development, cognitive development, language and social interaction skills.”
In addition to helping residents and respite guests integrate into the local community right in their own backyard, The Green Space was also designed to provide opportunities for the hundreds of St. Joseph Home volunteers to serve the organization via cleaning and maintaining the green space, flower and vegetable gardening and – most importantly – spending time with residents while enjoying the outdoors. It’s the first phase of a campus enhancement plan to meet the need for an increasing population over the next several years.
St. Joseph Home is located at 10722 Wyscarver Road, Cincinnati, OH 45241. For more information, call 513.563.2520, email email@example.com or visit www.stjosephhome.org.