Earlier this month in Gadsden, Alabama; a small town in the Northeast corner of the state, close to two dozen newly-minted Firesouls gathered at the Beautiful Rainbow Cafe to lunch on fried chicken and waffles, crab cakes and sweet potato pie – and to celebrate their new roles and 18 new Sacred Places in-the-making.
The luncheon was hosted by the TKF Foundation and the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama, which is funding the new network of Sacred Places via its Susie Parker Stringfellow Health Fund.
On hand was a small team from the TKF Foundation, including our executive director Erin Robertson, who took the opportunity to welcome the Firesouls and green spaces into the Nature Sacred Network.
This was the first time the Alabama Firesouls had all gathered at once; the first time most of them had met, collectively sharing their plans and aspirations for their spaces.
“One of the most important things we can do as an organization is to support our Firesouls — and a key piece of this is giving them opportunities to meet, share ideas, inspiration and lessons learned,” said Robertson.
“Being in the room with them that day was incredibly inspirational — hearing, in these Firesouls’ voices, how the concept of Sacred Places is being applied in different contexts and communities.”
And these differences, this uniqueness, are precisely what we have always encouraged communities to capture in their Sacred Places. Following welcomes from both CFNEA and TKF, each Firesoul was invited to give a brief elevator-style description of their Sacred Places. As each of the new Firesouls stood up that day to share their stories, it was clear that the message of what a peaceful, purpose-built green space could bring to a community had resonated.
Even the meeting place itself carried a particular significance to the occasion. A Beautiful Rainbow Cafe is housed in the Gadsden Public Library; together, the two applied for and received one of the Sacred Places grants. Their green space, which will incorporate herbs among its greenery, will be nestled into the side of the library. Its micro harvest will be used by the Cafe, which operates as a full-service eatery, but with a unique, very important mission: to provide job training to cognitively impaired high school students.
This library partnership is but one of the 18 grantees, many of which have equally compelling, critical missions in the community. From the Sylacauga Alliance for Family Enhancement, which operates programs like community gardens that help address hunger in the community, and GED classes; to the Health Care Authority of the City of Piedmont, an assisted living and specialty care facility that is home to more home to more than 100 seniors.
“Nature has an incredible capacity to help heal and improve wellbeing in so many ways,” said Robertson. “The growing awareness of this was evident in these new Firesouls.”
Construction has begun on more than half of the spaces; the full 18 are expected to be completed by the end of next year. As part of the Nature Sacred Network, we will continue to share their stories.
We invite you to follow along.