Open Voices Blog

News and conversations about the growing evidence of the healing power of nature and green development in cities

A Southern Interpretation of Sacred

Posted on 06/12/18

In the hills of Northeast Alabama, a new network of 18 Sacred Places is about to begin taking shape.

Photo by Elijah Hail on Unsplash

Early last fall, the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama announced a grant program affiliated with a health fund; a new direction, new thinking on how to foster healthy communities through grantmaking. The foundation would grant funds for the creation of 18 urban green spaces — Sacred Places — two in each of the counties it serves. A few days ago, the Foundation announced 15 of the 18 awardees; the remaining three will be named later this year.

A library with an herb garden serviced by students with special needs. A museum under construction to honor Cherokee culture. An assisted living facility with a creative vision to uplift its residents. These are just a few of the Sacred Places proposed by the recently-announced winners, detailed below.

Fred Smith, Director of the Stringfellow Health Fund Grants at the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama (CFNEA), is thrilled with the response from the community. It was Fred who traveled throughout the nine counties, describing the concept of a Sacred Place—and what it could mean to the people of Northeast Alabama. From here, communities were encouraged to bid—proposing ideas for how a Sacred Place may benefit their unique populations.

It was hard for us to predict what might happen next. How might this part of the country respond to our Nature Sacred model? To date, our Sacred Places reside mostly to the north of Alabama. We were hopeful.

Over the course of the next few months, inquiries poured in. Communities of all shapes and sizes responded with thoughtful, creative interpretations of what a Sacred Place could look like in their communities—and how they believe it would help foster wellness and unity.

Looking ahead, we couldn’t be more excited to welcome this new network to our Nature Sacred community. Check back here to watch these places to come to life—we’ll chronicle the stories as we go!

Justice Hugo Black Park
Named for one of the longest serving members of the Supreme Court, and native of Clay County, the eponymous future Sacred Place is intended to offer a place of quiet reflection while also recognizing and honoring those who struggled and fought for their basic civil and human rights.

City of Anniston: West Anniston Gateway
Nestled within the city of Anniston resides the West Fifteenth Street Historic District—a once-thriving commercial and social center for African Americans during an era of deep segregation. A quarter-acre, Sacred Place pocket park will offer a means for reflection; a place for people to feel an understanding of the impact of this place and history; a step towards revitalizing this important neighborhood; and a means to bring people together in the name of unity.

City of Ashland: Stringfellow Garden
Infusing pride, a sense of agency and civic engagement are the driving forces behind the creation of a Sacred Place in the City of Ashland. The town seeks to reverse a stigma of economic depression—and wants to work to bring the community together in an effort to combat violence and other social ills that plague so many cities today. In memory of Susie Parker Stringfellow, this “park within a park” will serve as a place of acceptance and peace.

City of Heflin: Community Restorative Garden and Dog Run
While the City of Heflin has much to boast—proximity to the South Appalachian Mountains, a nearby Watershed, community recreation opportunities, to name a few—it seeks to infuse a Sacred Place to encourage mindful reflection, healing, stress reduction and mood enhancement. To improve health. Understanding Heflin is a community of dog-lovers, the space will offer a dog run—aimed to inspire more use and engagement for all community members, even the furry ones.

Fort Payne Main Street: Reflection and Meditation Garden
Tucked in a valley near Lookout Mountain, the city of Fort Payne takes pride in its natural beauty—and recognizes its importance in contributing to their quality of life. A Sacred Place—a “Life Garden”—will be integrated within a community walking park, and offer a reminder to spend a few moments reflecting, appreciating and renewing oneself in nature.

Cherokee County Civitan: Weiss Lake
The Sacred Place at Weiss Lake will work to celebrate the natural beauty of Cherokee County—and give people a destination off an accessible pathway or trail for experiencing tranquility in nature. Designed for use by its community—it will support fellowship and neighborhood gatherings—and work to promote a sense of agency and pride in the area.

Gadsden Public Library: Sensory Garden
Aligned with the mission of the library, the Gadsden Public Library’s Sacred Place sensory garden is centered around inclusion. With a clear focus, this space aims to facilitate learning, encourage teens and youth to be self-directed and motivated, and to provide members of the community a place to find solace, support, and relaxation. Among its proposed features is an herb garden that offers therapeutic learning—a way for students with special needs to further develop their vocational, educational, social, and therapeutic skills into their daily routines.

McCord’s Crossroads Homemakers Club: Crossroads Garden: A place of Solace and Remembrance
The McCord’s Crossroads Homemakers Club provides positive support for local families through leadership and education—with an emphasis on place and history. They look into infuse a Sacred Place to escape the daily stresses of modern life and find peace—and, in keeping with their mission, this space will be a “place where [people] may journey back and remember the history of their families that built the community. A place available for school field trips that help educate our students in nature and history of the area.”

Mentone Arts & Cultural Center: Dr. Stephen Brewer Sculpture Garden
Mentone is a pocket of rich history and culture for Alabama—once home to part of the Cherokee Nation until Native American removal in 1838. To pay homage to its deep heritage, a planned museum will celebrate the Cherokee culture, and will serve as a creative community hub for artists and the public alike. As part of the plans, a Sculpture Garden will integrate a Sacred Place—a thoughtful destination for people to nourish their minds, bodies and souls; at the base of Lookout Mountain and surrounded by indigenous art.

Pell City Gateway Community Garden, Inc.: Healing and Restorative Garden
For the past several years, Pell City has worked to feed its vulnerable populations and foster community unity through its Pell City Gateway Community Garden. The organization now looks to broaden its efforts to better support the community. Enter its new Sacred Place: a Healing and Restorative Garden that looks to bring people together to enjoy nature in peace and solitude; offer educational opportunities for classes of students and learners of all ages; and spark community engagement. In doing so, the organization hopes to enrich its culture and economy—working to prevent crime in effective ways.  

Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement, Inc.: SAFE’s Mind, Body and Spirit Pathway
Servants in Faith & Technology (SIFAT) is a nonprofit based in Randolph County, AL, that trains community leaders in helping distressed populations thrive—both in the US and across the globe (90 countries to be exact). SIFAT looks now to integrate a Sacred Place, named Sarah’s Garden, in an effort to help its local community to improve the physical and mental health of its citizens—and to “cultivate a relationship between SIFAT and our neighbors”.

Talladega College Sacred Places: Honoring Our Ancestors, Enacting our Dreams
In the historic district of Talladega, AL, and tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains sits Talladega College, Alabama’s oldest private historically black college. The campus is uniquely positioned for a Sacred Place—as it resides in an already quiet place, removed from nearby urban hustle. The College will integrate a Sacred Place adjacent to its Chapel—one of the campus hallmarks and home to most of the campus engagement—as a means to let the student body, staff and public come to sit, reflect, and renew in a serene, natural setting.

The Health Care Authority of the City of Piedmont: “Timeless Seasons in the Sun”
The Health Care Authority of the City of Piedmont looks to infuse more holistic therapies to foster the healing of their 100+ “sojourners” — residents of their assisted living and speciality care facilities. To that end, a creative interpretation of a Sacred Place titled “Timeless Seasons in the Sun” will utilize wheelchair-accessible paths, cascading water fountain, wind chimes, birdhouses—all infused with thoughtful plantings and greenery. The paths will lead visitors to 2 meaningful and visually intriguing sundial destinations intended to engage and offer reflection.

Gadsden Cultural Arts Foundation: Reflective Garden at the historic Gunn-Bellenger House in Gadsden
A Sacred Place Reflective Garden is set to be created on the grounds of the Gadsden Cultural Arts Center—to offer community of all ages, including its youngest people, a visually pleasing green space that fosters contemplative restoration of the mind, body and spirit. All senses will be engaged through colorful, native plantings; musical chimes; seasonal variations and more. An arbor will be gated to ensure safety for young children—and an open gazebo just begs for creative practice like plein air art or writing.

Photo by Casey Lee on Unsplash

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    We are a private nonprofit that supports, informs, and inspires the creation of publicly accessible urban green spaces. We believe that every city resident needs nearby green space to provide opportunities for mindfulness, respite, and renewal. The Foundation has issued its final grants to build five Open Spaces Sacred Places and research the impacts on a variety of users with the hope that the powerful connection between nature, spirit and human wellbeing will be scientifically proven.

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