By Ken Trainor
According to the National Wildlife Federation, "Children's stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces — and children who regularly spend time outside are happier and healthier."
Hephzibah Children's Association took this to heart. Many of Hephzibah's traumatized children have never taken a walk in the woods or planted a garden and watched it grow.
The survivors of neglect and abuse are being given more opportunities to interact with nature, thanks to a team from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation's Community Leadership Program, who enlisted the aid of Root-Riot (a local organization that promotes the joys of growing our own food), the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry, and Dominican University to create a community garden at Hephzibah Home. The garden's harvest will be shared with the Food Pantry to bring fresh produce to people in need.
The group spent several April weekends preparing the garden under the guidance of Root-Riot co-founders Amy Beltemacchi and Seamus Ford. Food Pantry Executive Director Michele Zurakowski pitched in with other volunteers. Kathleen Mullaney, director of the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects at Dominican University, and a group of Dominican University students helped haul in dirt and mulch, taught the children about soil and helped them install stepping stones. Master gardener Don Nekrosius stopped by to give the kids some pointers about worm composting.
"This amazing group of community volunteers has transformed our backyard into a living oasis that will benefit our children immeasurably while producing food for the community," said Hephzibah Development Director Molly Philosophos.
The garden will be dedicated at noon Sunday, May 18, at Hephzibah on North Boulevard.