I write this with deepest appreciation to those at the Homeless Garden Project who touched my life with their authenticity and presence: Darrie, Angie, Jes, Naomi, Lindsay, Mike, Chris, Angela, Raven, and the many trainees, community members, and others I worked alongside in the office, workshop, retail store, and farm.
I relocated to Santa Cruz in the summer of 2014 and chose to participate in the Project’s volunteer Century Certificate Program in the fall and winter. Participating in this program–comprised of 100 hours of volunteer service and several classes with the training program–offered me the stability I needed to focus my attention and energy on a cause that I knew nothing about, yet had a mental, emotional, and spiritual connection with. I was going through a difficult life transition: the loss of the lifestyle I had cultivated for the past 14 years, the termination of employment, marriage, and home. Although I have financial resources, skills, family, friends, and a new home, the feeling of being uprooted was very ungrounding and the Century Certificate Program was the fertile soil I needed to plant the seeds for my own healing and new beginnings in this community.
Courage is required during these times of unknown, when new life is stirring underground and we must patiently wait for it to break through the surface, like new sprouts seeking light in order to grow. Throughout this transition, I have come to see that our lives run parallel with the life cycle of nature, seasons, and plants, and it has helped me to use this analogy to embrace the changes in my life.
In any transition, having the empathetic help of others, a structure for learning new skills, faith in overcoming obstacles, and a safe haven or place to go really makes a difference for those feeling physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually without a “home”. This was certainly the case for me. The Homeless Garden Project offered me support, and the kindness of the individuals involved gave me hope.
The combination of sharing my passion for gardening and therapeutic horticulture, with putting my administrative skills to work in the office meant so much for me. In those months of volunteering, I was gaining the tools to come home inside myself and trust that I could make a home in the external world as well.
We share a common humanity in our need for food, shelter, clothing, and contribution—to be seen and understood with compassion in order to learn the necessary tools to experience and express the full power of who we are. The seeds I planted of perseverance, hope, faith, self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-respect during the Century Certificate Program have broken through the surface and the warmth of the spring sunlight along with the water of my mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being is providing a solid foundation for the physical blossoming of a new garden.
Although I have completed the program, I am still in transition, in the process of composting the old, redesigning my life with meaning and purpose, exploring new professional options, participating in trainings, embracing new thoughts and emotions, and knowing that all experiences have value. With patience, the fruits of these labors will be harvested in their own time. My deepest gratitude to the Homeless Garden Project for helping me come home to that place within and knowing anything is possible.
-Laura Belson, Century Certificate Volunteer