Three years ago, a book — Open Spaces Sacred Places — landed on the desk of Jennifer S. Maddox , President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama (CFNEA). The timing couldn’t have been better.
At that point, the foundation was searching for a unique project: one that would both honor the legacy of the Stringfellow Health Fund namesake, and at the same time, fall within the scope of its funding parameters. Maddox shared the book with Fred Smith, Director of Grants and Partnerships at CFNEA (who joined Nature Sacred’s Board in 2020); they agreed they had found what they were looking for. Smith immediately got to work.
The concept presented in the book — community-led, contemplative spaces that promote health and wellbeing — instantly struck a chord with Smith. He shared the book with community members. A call was also made to Nature Sacred, at the time still known as TKF. Fast forward past two incredibly industrious years to today: a new network of Sacred Places has emerged in Northeast Alabama. Since early September, seven new spaces have opened. In the coming weeks, seven more will follow. And three more, still, are under development. All within the nine counties CFNEA serves.
All of the spaces in Northeast Alabama received initial funding via the Stringfellow Health Fund, which has been administered by CFNEA for decades. Since 1999, the fund has awarded more than $10 million in grants for free health clinics, prescription drugs, vision and dental programs, among other more traditional healthcare programs. And now—a nature-based intervention has been added to the list.
“There couldn’t be a more timely moment for these spaces of healing and hope to be opening. We are truly inspired by the creativity and commitment of these communities and Firesouls,” said Alden Stoner, CEO of Nature Sacred. “This program is proof that the message about nature being a public health tool is taking hold.”
The multi-site initiative has even garnered the attention of the organizers of the Jackson Hole, Wyoming-based SHIFT Summit, an annual event that this year is focused on the health benefits of nature and contributing to the transdisciplinary advancement of public and planetary health. CFNEA, for its work to establish its network of Sacred Places, was given a national SHIFT Award. The Award recognizes projects that employ nature as a means to build individual and community health. The foundation received more than 200 submissions for the award; CFNEA was one of only three chosen as winners.
Among the places these new 17 Sacred Places are nested: a public library, where the theme of the site is inclusion; an arts and culture center, where the Sacred Place is intended to honor Cherokee history; the oldest historically black private college in Alabama; a community garden helping address food insecurity; an elder care and rehabilitation facility; and the Anniston Civil Rights Trail, which runs through the city of Anniston.
“Each space has a voice that tells a unique story. A story that shows we are better when working together. A story that reinforces the benefits of the power of nature and its role in the healing, health and well-being of our communities. A story that demonstrates that leadership can be seen on many different levels of our community,” said Smith.
“Partnerships help to strengthen the accomplishment of goals in our communities. We are thankful for our many partners throughout Northeast Alabama, and with Nature Sacred. We look forward to sharing these beautiful spaces with the region and visitors from around the country.”
Each of the spaces created in Alabama has a unique, and in many cases profound, story and community perspective; each was planned using a charrette process that is central to Sacred Places. As part of the Nature Sacred Firesoul Network, each will also have a Nature Sacred bench with small waterproof yellow journals tucked beneath to capture the thoughts and musings of those who visit.
“We look forward to seeing the wisdom and teachings that visitors share in these journals,” said Stoner. To have these spaces open in this moment – one where individuals, communities, and the country needs to heal, is a sign of hope.”
Following is an overview of the new Alabama Sacred Places:
Community Restorative Garden and Dog Run Healing and Restorative Garden,
345 Mountain Street, Heflin
Healing and Restorative Garden,
3705 Mays Bend Road, Pell City
254 S. College Street, Gadsden
327 1st Street N, Ashland
Crossroads Garden: A Place of Solace and Remembrance,
7290 Co Rd 16, Centre
Timeless Season in the Sun,
30 Roundtree Drive, Piedmont
West 15th Street, Anniston
Reflection and Meditation Garden,
500 Gault Avenue, North Fort Payne
Reflective Garden at the Historic Gunn-Bellenge House,
872 Chestnut Street, Gadsden
SAFE’s Mind, Body and Spirit Pathway,
78 Betsy Ross Lane, Sylacauga
2944 Co Rd 113, Lineville
Weiss Lake Overview,
4798 Cedar Street, Cedar Bluff
Honoring Our Ancestors, Enacting Our Dreams,
627 Battle Street W, Talladega
Justice Hugo Black Memorial Park,
479 2nd St NW, Ashland
Dr. Stephen Brewer Sculpture Garden
4415 Alabama Highway 117 Mentone
Memorial Prayer Garden
21145 Scenic Hwy, Mentone
Lineville Pocket Park
1 Bob Riley Drive, Lineville