Laurie Soderman Speaks at Holiday Gala 2015

My name is Laurie Soderman and I became a trainee earlier this year in May. When I was asked to speak tonight, describing my experience, a quote from a song by the band Genesis came to mind. They sang:

The sands of time were eroded by the river of constant change.

This is a glimpse of my story of Transformation, currently raw and in the making. Not started by easy-going willingness, but rather by the pungent taste of experience.  Like the Phoenix, who crashes and burns, then rises up out of the ashes reborn anew—the problem is, we aren’t mythical creatures.

We are people, who either forgot or never learned—we are children of the Creator, valuable, beautiful and bountiful of creative expression.

Homelessness stripped me of my “place” in society, along with my self-worth, self-love and respectability.  All attempts to pull, push, yank, drag or climb out of this dark abyss, this void, were met with repeated failure, jail, depression—a downward spiral without light or hope. My motivation—lost.  Following a butterfly would be a straighter path. Then….

While locked up in jail, a volunteer encouraged me to fill out and complete a job application from a place called the Homeless Garden Project, a transitional employment program.

So, I wrote them a letter requesting an application…

Mail Call—“SODERMAN,” the officer called. A job application arrived with a note simply saying, “Hope to hear from you,” had been mailed—to the jail!  Who does that?

Shortly after my release in early spring, I found myself volunteering at the Garden. A 3.5 acre sanctuary where clean, pressed, dress attire was not required. I sat on the ground, was introduced to Angela, a current trainee then.  We planted beets. I felt safe, comfortable and calm. Carefully removing delicate new life from trays and transferring them to their new home, tucking them in, encouraging them to grow…and not let the bed bugs bite!

My thought was to test the water and what really happened was that I was drawn in by nature’s charm.

Soon after, I found myself seated at my job interview, and expecting the same pablum, rote memorized, trite sayings. I was pleasantly surprised by something entirely different, new and inspiring!

Surrounded, accepted and embraced, this caterpillar began spinning a cocoon, to save my life.

With my hands in the Earth, I began to connect with something much bigger than I evercould have anticipated. The work itself began an internal healing process. Lindsay encouraged me to choose a place or a “plant friend” to visit daily.

The hyssop called to me, a lovely plant with purple and pink plumage—used for making tea; conveniently planted next to the bed of Holy Basil.  This bed of plants became my constant companion as I would wear a sprig of the plant in the rubber band also holding the braid in my hair.  The fragrance visited my gently throughout the day. Always grounding me and communicating with me, creating a living relationship, preparing a space within for pure and simple life and love; a foundation from which to build.

Our workweek begins with “circle,” a confidential check-in space and often answering the question posed for the week that inspires thought and looking inward. Stretching as a group follows, then off to our different posts consisting of flower harvesting and creating bouquets, or irrigation, greenhouse or vegetable production.

Laurie speaking at our Holiday Gala, 2015

One day a week we are provided with a class, with topics ranging from how to enroll at Cabrillo College, to the study of bees or writing skills. Each trainee is also matched with a social work intern who works closely with their trainees. My social worker helps me to identify my goals and strengths; they locate documents to assist with housing and a range of other support services. We create or update our resumes. The Homeless Garden Project creates an environment where each trainee is always being presented with the opportunity of a new task, thus increasing knowledge and building a variety of skills.

With a job that is rewarding and being infused by the generosity of the garden, I noticed I was changing—growing, eating healthier, becoming more mindful and developing a positive attitude.

Since May of this year, I’ve been housed and I’m in the final step of obtaining my driver’s license. I have plans to attend college next year and embark on a new journey into my new job—be it in a garden or an office.

If I could sum it up into one key point: this Project, this Garden, this Community gives me an opportunity; an opportunity to make a difference! What an extraordinary way to receive, contribute and give back!

–Laurie Soderman, 12.4.2015