Changing lives — one bench at a time

As we ring in the New Year, we are thrilled to share that our 2021 end of year “This bench changed my life” campaign was a great success! Our community of donors gave generously — surpassing our goal and unlocking a $25,000 match grant.

From a Baltimore City hospital to the heart of Missouri, The campaign shared just five of the thousands of stories showing how the Nature Sacred bench has changed lives at the most fundamental levels. From births to healing, from marriage to seeking sanctuary in a time of strife, from gratitude for the moment to the passing of a loved one. 

You can find these stories in the story gallery, or continue reading and find them below. 

Just these five stories of thousands are proof that our benches change lives and touch hearts, in life’s most mundane and most critical moments. 

Thank you to all who participated and continue to support our work — in any way. We are so deeply appreciative of the wonderful communities that our benches are a part of, the wonderful people who sit on them, and most of all, those who take some time to be at peace in nature, no matter the circumstances. 

The success of this campaign — thanks to you — will help provide more resources for the existing network and establish more sacred places in communities across the country, helping to bring the healing power of nature to all, especially those who need it most. 

A birth story:

As remembered and shared by Firesoul CeCe Finney

When Lauren H. was awaiting her first child, a girl, due during the First Wave of COVID-19, she was to give birth at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. Facing this pandemic and the new protocols that came along with it; Lauren was crushed to learn that her family would not be able to gather with her, her baby and husband during those sweet first hours of their little one’s life.  

But through a stroke of luck, when she arrived at the hospital, Lauren was placed in a ground floor, sunny room that looked out on our Sacred Place. She was overjoyed. Her in-laws soon stationed themselves in the Sacred Place under the canopy of trees, resting from time to time on our bench. There they stayed — sheltered by nature during one of the most moving moments of their lives, separated only by a pane of glass from Lauren and her husband, in the hours preceding the arrival of Adriana. 


A story of resilience — and hope:

As shared by original Firesoul Chris Cotten

When an EF5 tornado tore through Joplin in an agonizing 38 minutes taking 161 lives, I was there. And yet, it is still incomprehensible — remembering the devastation.

I was sifting through rubble and seeing to the injured in the minutes and hours after the storm. In the days following, looking at the devastation around us, brought by nature, I was as certain then as I am now that part of the recovery also lay in nature. 

Our Joplin Sacred Place  —   one of two Landscapes of Resilience  —  on a section of the storm’s path, reflects the frames of houses that once stood there. The names of those we lost are now etched in stone beneath falling water. 

The bench that we placed in Joplin became a place for the community to heal, to record personal recollections. — a keeper of memories of all that was lost — so that together, we could find hope and strength to move forward.  


A wedding story:

As remembered and shared by Firesoul Rev. Paula Teague

Our Sacred Place at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center has touched so many lives. Because healing is a core purpose of this space, and it is at a hospital, it’s easy to overlook the moments of pure joy that also happen here. Like weddings.

It was just over seven years ago that Nicole, a member of the hospital staff — and of our labyrinth planning group — approached me with a request: might she get married here? She shared that aside from the time she regularly spent on the bench during breaks in the workday, she also visited on weekends seeking the peaceful surroundings, what she called a “peaceful meditative space in the city.” 

When she and her partner decided to marry, knowing they wanted a small, meaningful gathering in an outdoor setting, she immediately thought of our Sacred Place.

And so on a summer day, a small group of her friends and family gathered on the labyrinth for the exchanging of vows; her mother and grandmother among those leaving notes in the yellow journal. 


A story of community: 

Shared by Firesoul Steven Folks

We can’t afford to forget the stories of the generations that came before, passing over this very place into the part of town where they could let their shoulders down.

That’s one reason we created a Sacred Place at the entrance to 15th Street in Anniston, an area comprising several city blocks that I too would visit when I first moved here several decades ago — an area now part of the Anniston Civil Rights Trail. The entrance to 15th Street is the gateway to what was once a “City within a City”; where Black members of our community built thriving businesses, shopped, got haircuts, had a bite to eat — gathered without worry during an era of great turmoil in Alabama and throughout the country. 

Earlier this year, I invited elders of our community to gather in this space to share their history, their struggle, their grit, their experiences, so that new generations might learn from them and understand the value in sharing stories.

Today, visitors pause here, sit on the Bench and share their reflections on, and reactions to, this historical place.


A legacy story: 

Shared by Nature Sacred Chief Programs Officer, Erin Robertson

Nature carries on. Some believe it’s this simple truth that draws people who know they are at the end of their lives to it. Observing deeply the quiet yet astonishing life that surrounds them — and knowing they are a part of this verdant world. 

Just minutes from the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore, and the Sacred Place there, is Johns Hopkins Hospital, which treats and cares for thousands of patients each year, many seriously ill. Due to proximity, they often visit the meditation garden at AVAM in search of tranquility, healing and comfort. A young man named Eric was among these many patients.

While being treated for stage four cancer, he would visit the garden; he spent many hours sitting on the bench, presumably to find peace. Until one day he didn’t.

We only learned of Eric after he passed when his family called our Firesoul at AVAM to share the depth of his gratitude for this special place in nature in his final days.