Art and healing — in community, for community: The Sacred Place at JAVA

Halfway between Baltimore and Philadelphia, Elkton, Maryland is a town with a population of just over 15,000 residents. While Elkton is small in comparison to the two major metropolitan areas that is sandwiched between, the Cecil County Seat serves the entirety of Cecil County.  

Earlier this year, I sat down with Firesoul Giulia Hodge, who shared about her involvement in the creation of the Juvenile Agency Volunteer Auxiliary Garden (JAVA). JAVA partnered with Nature Sacred, local Master Gardeners, and local artists to design and implement this Sacred Place, located directly in front of the county’s Circuit Courthouse. Giulia spearheaded this project and brought kids from the foster and juvenile delinquency programs to work on the garden as part of their court mandated community service and volunteer work. 

Visitors share conversation while enjoying the Sacred Place at JAVA

The site features a wall of mosaic, done by a neighbor and former small business owner, as well as a large sculpture, gifted by a local blacksmith as an homage to his mentor, also a well-known local blacksmith in the community who passed away. A trellis and plant-lined walkway draw visitors into the space, and the beautiful artwork within is a focal point.  

A large metal tree sculpture sits opposite the bench. Padlocks hang from its branches, each one inscribed with a name and date — meant to memorialize Elkton community members who lost their lives to gun violence or other violent crime. 

JAVA, the organization developed by Giulia was absorbed by CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, when Guilia transitioned to working within that organization. CASA has seamlessly continued to support this site and it remains a gathering place for both residents of Elkton and those visiting the courthouse.  

Guilia is able to put her passion for community wellness to work in her role at CASA, working with children and adolescents who are navigating their way through the juvenile justice and foster care systems. CASA’s services are crucial to supporting those who may not have the ability and resources to advocate for themselves.  

A portion of the decorative mosaic wall that surrounds the Sacred Place

Giulia has done an excellent job of incorporating community members and local providers in the Sacred Place, ensuring that this garden is truly welcoming to all members of the Elkton community, Cecil County, and those navigating the justice and court systems. 

Today, as the garden is located directly in front of the main circuit court building, it remains a peaceful and welcoming place for all who visit. Giulia shared that it is also a popular photography spot for newly married couples as they exit the courthouse. 

Currently, Giulia is working on a project that aims to bring affordable housing options to young adults, helping them to transition into independent living after aging out of the foster system. She has been working hard, this seven year-long endeavor is finally kicking off this year — and when the time is right, will perhaps include a new Sacred Place.