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The “Hope Grows Here” gardening program at the Beech Brook campus is giving foster children an opportunity for hope and healing. A partnership between Fostering Hope and Beech Brook led to the restoration of the therapeutic garden this spring, where children can learn how to be mindful and nurturing.

Fostering Hope, a foster care service, has offices on the Beech Brook property at 3737 Lander Road in Pepper Pike. The garden was first created in 2015 for children in Beech Brook’s residential treatment program, Beech Brook CEO Tom Royer said. The residential treatment program closed the following year, so the garden has not been used since then. After more than a year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fostering Hope’s leadership team sought a way to bring foster care children outside for a therapeutic activity.

“We were looking for a way to get them outside and do more,” Fostering Hope CEO Karen Carter said last week. “The last year and a half was hard. We were shut inside and didn’t have the same opportunities. This idea to revive the garden came up and Beech Brook’s staff has been really supportive. We’re excited for this opportunity. It’s a safe activity to do this summer and moving forward.”

There are also therapeutic gardens at Applewood Centers in Cleveland and Bellefaire JCB in University Heights. About 50 foster care children use the garden at Beech Brook. The garden has raised beds so each child can design and plant a variety of fruits, vegetables and other plants of their choosing. One child wanted to grow hot foods so there are jalapeno peppers in the garden. Another child selected rose bushes.

“We just ask them for ideas and encourage them,” Ms. Carter said. “There’s an herb garden with cilantro and basil. We planted butterfly plants for the purpose of having butterflies. We let them pick what they want to grow, like tomatoes and watermelon.”

The curriculum for the children who use the garden was developed by the Cleveland Botanical Garden so there are details of how to successfully grow fruits, vegetables and plants. Beech Brook’s social workers added therapeutic elements.

“They do activities about mindfulness and breathing and being kind to the plants,” Ms. Carter said. “They learn about nurturing something. That’s important for kids. It teaches them how to take care of themselves.”

Although the name of the program is “Hope Grows Here,” the children wanted to name their own garden. It is called “Kids of Care,” referencing foster care children.

Beech Brook’s employees take the foster care children to the campus for various activities during the week. They are not able to tend to the garden every day, so Fostering Hope relies on volunteers to water the garden throughout the week. Ms. Carter takes her own children, Alice, 10, Hannah, 8 and Joel, 5, of Shaker Heights to volunteer every week.

“We rely on volunteers to get the garden ready, but we’ve been lucky to have families come out with their kids to water during the week,” she said. “The kids who benefit from it can’t come out every day to water, so volunteers sign up to water so their plants will grow. It’s been a community effort.”

Mr. Royer said that he is happy to partner with Fostering Hope for the therapeutic garden.

“Fostering Hope brings a lot of resources to our kids in foster care. They wanted to build a garden for our residential kids in 2016 and they decided they wanted to revitalize it and have our foster kids benefit,” Mr. Royer said. “They grow vegetables and flowers. It’s really neat. It’s a very diverse garden. The kids are proud to accomplish something – to grow something from a seed or a small plant, it’s interacting with nature and it’s therapeutic.”

Fostering Hope’s mission is to connect and enrich youth who live in residential treatment and foster care with unique experiences of hope and healing, Ms. Carter said. It was established in 2013 to raise awareness about challenges that children in the foster care system face. Fostering Hope achieves their mission through childhood experiences, health and wellness and community involvement.

The organization recognizes childhood experiences by providing holiday gifts and celebrating the birthdays of children in foster care, known as Holiday Gift ‘n Greet and Birthdays with Hope. They also receive “journey bags” when they move from one foster care placement to another. The bags include comforting items and essentials. Without journey bags, children often use a garbage bag to move their belongings.

“We want to give kids in foster care experiences that we take for granted,” Ms. Carter said.

Health and wellness activities include Hope in Balance, a program that offers yoga, meditation and art therapy, and Wonder Camp, a summer camp. Community involvement includes the Dreams program, which offers mentoring relationships to children who are aging out of foster care.

People interested in volunteering for the garden or making a donation may visit fostering

hopeohio.org or beechbrook.org.

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Original Article: https://bit.ly/37uoPxf

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