The Caring Place’s new meditation garden blossoms overnight


A female client of The Caring Place walked past its newest amenity, the Meditation Garden, and yelled out to volunteers who were constructing it.

“It looks good so far,” she told them from the parking lot.

“You’re gonna love it,” replied Jessica Luth, the shelter’s president and CEO. “It’s more gorgeous than I ever imagined.”







The Caring Place's new meditation garden blossoms overnight for troubled clients

Volunteers from Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso create a Meditation Garden at The Caring Place shelter in Valparaiso on Monday, July 8.




Located on spacious property in a residential neighborhood of Valparaiso, the once-empty field is now a tranquil reprieve from the storm of emotional trauma for clients and their children.

The Caring Place serves people who have experienced domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as their dependents. It also operates the only 24-hour crisis line and emergency shelter in Porter County.

“The Caring Place is a beautiful shelter and we have amazing resources for clients. But it is still communal living,” Luth said. “This Zen garden is going to be healing for our clients and their children.”







The Caring Place's new meditation garden blossoms overnight for troubled clients

Don Spears, a professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, helps create a Meditation Garden at The Caring Place shelter in Valparaiso on Monday, July 8.




The garden was conceived weeks ago but constructed Monday by students and staff from the Valparaiso campus of Ivy Tech Community College. They arrived at 8 a.m. and stayed through the day, digging and planting, putting together chairs, building a fire pit, and turning nothing special into something beautiful.

Last semester, students in the school’s Human Development and Ecological Systems class conducted a literature review to show that exposure to nature is proven to have positive psychological outcomes for individuals who have experienced trauma.

“Two studies were even conducted with the samples being residents at domestic violence shelters,” said Donald Spears, a professor of human services and the program’s chair. “With this information, we decided to contact The Caring Place about providing them with a Meditation Garden for parents to enjoy and recharge.”







The Caring Place's new meditation garden blossoms overnight for troubled clients

Volunteers from Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso take a needed break while building a Meditation Garden at The Caring Place shelter in Valparaiso on Monday, July 8.




Spears and other volunteers tilled and toiled on a hot, humid day as clients continued to rebuild their lives inside the shelter, which has 12 rooms, 45 beds and countless blessings for clients.

“This is a collaboration of several different groups and departments,” said Dan Mohamed, a faculty member of design technology at Ivy Tech in Valparaiso.

He created and modified the layout of the garden in AutoCAD, computer-aided design software. He also showed up Monday morning to help guide the project’s logistics. (Watch a video and view more photos at NWI.com.)







The Caring Place's new meditation garden blossoms overnight for troubled clients

Rachael Bennett, a life coach at Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso, plants seeds of hope at a new Meditation Garden at The Caring Place shelter in Valparaiso on Monday, July 8.




“I know that our clients will use this garden,” Luth told Spears and Mohamed. “Sometimes we have more kids than adults so it can be loud in there.”

As sweat dripped through his green tie-dyed Ivy Life shirt, Spears explained, “They’re envisioning this garden as an escape. That’s what we have created here.”

Many clients arrive here with very few possessions, only items of necessity when they fled their home. Some of them were referred to The Caring Place by social service agencies. Other clients found the shelter on the internet by secretly visiting its website.

A tab on the bottom of the website states, “Click here to exit quickly,” in case any visitors feel endangered by their abusers while researching their next step in life.







The Caring Place's new meditation garden blossoms overnight for troubled clients

Volunteers from Ivy Tech Community College in Valparaiso put together a table while building a Meditation Garden at The Caring Place shelter in Valparaiso on Monday, July 8.




“Many of our clients need to be here longer than 30 or 45 days to get back on their feet,” Luth said. “Most of them simply need a safe place just to breathe. When you’re able to breathe a little easier, it’s also easier to plan for your future.”

Only three other similar shelters are in operation in Northwest Indiana, Luth noted.

“We work with all of them but there are still not enough beds for clients,” she said. “This garden allows our clients to be a part of nature and not be stuck in a room. Or they can come here to spend alone time with their children.”

Funds for the project were donated by James Harper, stepson of former Porter County Superior Court Judge David Chidester, who died in March.

“Judge Chidester was on our board and he loved this place,” Luth said.

Later this month, a park bench in the Meditation Garden will be adorned with a special plaque of appreciation in his honor.

“He left his mark here for sure,” Luth said as volunteers worked near the bench.







The Caring Place's new meditation garden blossoms overnight for troubled clients

Clients can immediately begin using this peaceful garden to unearth their emotional troubles. Jessica Bates, an intern at the shelter and one of the volunteers, aptly summed it up during a break in the project.

“They can bury their old feelings of pain and begin growing new ones of hope,” she said.




Chidester, who I greatly admired, discreetly donated luggage to the shelter so clients didn’t have to use trash bags to haul around their sparse belongings.

“Dignity was important to the judge. He did what he could to provide it to our clients,” Luth said.

Clients can immediately begin using this peaceful garden to unearth their emotional troubles. Jessica Bates, an intern at the shelter and one of the volunteers, aptly summed it up during a break in the project.

“They can bury their old feelings of pain and begin growing new ones of hope,” she said.

Contact Jerry at Jerry.Davich@nwi.com. Find him on Facebook and other socials. Opinions are those of the writer.



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