It’s hard to tell Nature Sacred’s story without talking about Kitty and Tom Stoner. Let’s start here.
Upon moving to the Washington/Baltimore area from rural Iowa roughly three decades ago, the couple was quick to observe the lack of nature in cities. A pervasive kind of restlessness was manifesting in people and communities—a fatigue from the speed, noise and chaos of modern life, mixed with an anxious kind of yearning. For something—meaning, perhaps.
Urban life was leaving people wired and tired. Imbalanced. Kitty and Tom believed nature could help.
A growing body of research spurred their thinking. Science was showing simply being in nature—even in short visits—can improve wellness in lasting, meaningful ways.
By collaborating with some of the front runners in social research and landscape design, Kitty and Tom assembled a unique model for community green spaces. They called them Open Spaces, Sacred Places.
Not just any green space.
The Stoners’ vision was to offer a framework that communities can easily adopt and make their own, versus a top-down kind of approach. Open Spaces, Sacred Places—what we now call Sacred Places—are intended for mindful reflection: to serve as a kind of healing poultice for people to regain balance. An antidote to stress. Finally, these spaces needed to be open to all—and nearby, within walking distance of the community served. (Learn about our unique design here.)
The model was in place, the science was there to support it, and the TKF Foundation was formed in 1996. They got busy.
The first Sacred Place was created in the first year, then came a few more. Kitty and Tom were awed by the impact these small Sacred Places were having. Countless stories surfaced via the free, waterproof journals offered at each site—open letters of gratitude and healing. Communities coalescing. People reconnecting with themselves and each other—and finding strength, pride and hope.
The couple knew they were onto something good. And the concept began to replicate, expanding into more communities and cities.
Over the course of the next two decades, TKF partnered with communities to create over 130 Sacred Places in all kinds of environments—all across the country. Hospitals, prisons, churches, cities—places where healing was needed. And today, we’re seeing Sacred Places come to life in some of the most surprising and creative ways.
Perhaps best of all, there is no real boss of this movement. It’s run by the communities themselves—inspired individuals that spark and foster engagement within their neighborhoods—all over the country. As the Stoners had originally conceived, each space adopts the TKF vision as their own—armed with a model, support and guidance along the way.
Quietly, modestly and purposefully—these small spaces have touched countless people’s lives, working to instill a sense of agency and pride that maybe didn’t exist before.
The science—and a brand shift.
How exactly does it work—how does nature help people heal from trauma and stress—scientifically?
The TKF Foundation set to find out in 2011 by embarking upon a robust six-year research program—the Nature Sacred Awards Program. Tom and Kitty summoned the best and brightest environmental and social researchers and landscape designers to study the impacts nature can have on populations hard-hit by trauma, stress, disaster recovery and PTSD. TKF made Nature Sacred its sole focus—shifting its brand wholly to Nature Sacred, and putting all its resources and efforts into this program for the next many years.
The results are inspiring—and support exactly what the Stoners knew all along: nature heals in truly potent ways.
Charting a new course.
Armed with a model that works, research to support it, and over two decades of community experience to help guide new communities along—we’ve synthesized these learnings and insights into an actionable formula ready for adoption by new communities. A replicable model.
We’ve organized our research and stories into key Impact Areas—enabling people to get a better sense of what nature can do to help people and communities with specific needs—an area that we’re continuing to expand on and grow as new research is revealed.
Through our Nature Sacred Network—an alliance of over 100 thriving community leaders, what we call Firesouls—we continue to evolve our understanding of what works best to help people heal and communities strengthen through nature—in all kinds of creative ways. These stories are captured and chronicled in our Resource Center, filter-able by green space type, impact area and more.
With all this in place, we’re looking to broaden our reach. In 2020, we officially changed our name to Nature Sacred as we shifted from a grantmaking family foundation to a private operating foundation continuing the work to support our existing vision—but with an even greater urgency. We look to exponentially increase the instances of nearby nature in communities across the country and beyond.
To make this happen, we’re working to grow the tent of organizations that share our vision—other forward-thinking nonprofits, institutions and businesses who believe that nature can promote healthier, safer and more inclusive communities.
Interested in joining this exciting movement? We’d love to hear from you.