It’s hard to tell Nature Sacred’s story without talking about Tom and Kitty 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. Tom and Kitty 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, Tom and Kitty 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 to help people heal and find 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. Tom and Kitty 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. Strengthening. Finding 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 it’s sole focus—shifting it’s brand wholly to Nature Sacred, and putting all its resources and efforts into this program for the next many years.
The results are still coming in—and support exactly what the Stoners knew all along: nature heals in truly potent ways.
As the exciting whirl of the national research program concludes, Tom, Kitty and all of us at Nature Sacred have recognized a potent opportunity.
Armed with a model that works, research to support it, and 25 years’ worth 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 re-organized our research and stories into key Impact Areas—enabling people to get a broad 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. And we’re introducing the Nature Sacred Network: an alliance of our most active Sacred Places that we’re excited to learn from through ongoing stories, new programming and events, and inspiring examples to help us all, collectively, understand what works best to cultivate a true sense of community—and how to continually listen and evolve these spaces to best serve its people.
Watch this space—we’re excited about what the future holds!