Garden program launched for sexual abuse survivors

Filed under: In Our Community |

submitted to EFP

“Reclaiming the Sacred” is looking to recruit twelve residents for its pilot program. A local community group is hoping to make a difference in the lives of local survivors of sexual abuse through an innovative garden program.

Referred to as “Reclaiming the Sacred,” this program will provide instruction and support for survivors in the design and installation of their own outdoor spaces. The Naturalized Habitat Network of Essex County & Windsor is developing the program.

This program is an off-shoot of that organization’s Healing Gardens Program, which was first introduced in 2014 as a course for the general public. Although this core program will likely continue to be offered in the future, those at the Network saw a need to develop a specialized version of this program to serve this particular demographic.

Program Coordinator Dan Bissonnette explained why.

“A survivor of sexual abuse made the suggestion to offer a dedicated program earlier this year. After looking into it, we found that outside of some core treatment services, there are no garden programs for this demographic in Windsor or Essex County – or anywhere else for that matter.”

Bissonnette added that although the public healing gardens course has attracted people from all walks of life and circumstances, he noticed that survivors of sexual abuse never identified themselves or got involved in class discussions, likely out concern for the stigma around this issue of abuse.

In addition to providing a dedicated curriculum, he realized that offering a venue in which everyone has similar circumstances would allow them to feel more at ease to engage in the class.

In recognizing this need, the Network is presently developing a new version of its Healing Gardens Course specifically for survivors of sexual abuse. Given the name “Reclaiming the Sacred,” this is the very first garden-related program of its kind to be offered in Windsor and Essex County.

As with the public course, this course will teach people how to plan and create their own personal healing gardens.

In addition, it will include a revised curriculum that addresses the specific challenges of survivors. With some help from local donors, the Network will launch this program with a pilot course that is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, October 4. This first class will take place in Windsor and will be offered as weekly evening classes.

Out of concern for the confidentiality of course participants, the Network will implement some additional privacy measures. The exact course location will remain confidential and will only be revealed to participants upon confirmation of their acceptance into the class. Inside the class, no one will be obligated to disclose the details of their abuse and they can elect to use only their first names if they choose.

This course will be open to residents of Windsor or Essex County who are survivors of sexual abuse. This initial class will be limited to 12 participants. Those who have addressed their abuse through counselling would be preferred. In order to optimize the findings of the pilot course, the Network is looking for a variety of participants that will represent a cross section of different ages and experiences.

This course will be free, and qualifying participants can receive subsidies toward the purchase of plants and landscape supplies.

While Bissonnette admitted that although they will likely receive more registrations than what can be accommodated in the pilot course, survivors who don’t make it in on their first attempt can take heart in knowing that additional classes are being planned for 2017. In the meantime, he is looking forward to reaching out to local survivors and beginning the course on October 4.

“For these people, the path to healing is never quick and easy. For many of them, it is a life-long process. I hope that what we’re offering can be a positive step on their healing journey.”

Registrations for the “Reclaiming the Sacred” course will take place throughout September. Interested survivors are encouraged to call Dan at the Naturalized Habitat Network at 519-259-2407. More information can be found at