Person First: Bodhi Gardens Receives $250,000 from Erie’s American Rescue Plan Fund
The Northwest Pennsylvania (NW PA) Veteran Suicide Prevention Program operates on a three-pronged approach involving healthcare providers, community organizations, and Veterans and their families in the 15 counties of NW PA. In February of 2022, we interviewed Mike Shannon of Erie, PA, as part of the “Person-First” series. That interview, where we learned about Mike’s background as a Veteran and his efforts to bring healing and wellness to others, launched a collaboration between his nonprofit organization, Bodhi Gardens, and this program. In addition, Bodhi Gardens recently received a substantial grant award to help implement small-scale indoor vegetable farming and horticultural therapy (HT) to help those experiencing mental health issues and food insecurity. We hope you’re as enthusiastic about these developments as we are and enjoy learning more about Mike’s efforts to improve wellness and resiliency throughout the region.
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Seeds of Hope Begin to Grow in Erie County
Bodhi Gardens recently announced that the organization received $250,000 in grant funding from Erie’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) fund. The award is designed to assist all members of the Erie community who have been adversely impacted by COVID-19.
Erie Mayor Joe Schember’s administration allocated nearly $3 million for various community development projects as part of the city’s distribution framework for the $76 million it received through the ARP. In addition to Bodhi Gardens, nonprofit groups dedicated to improving workforce training, alleviating domestic violence, and increasing access to health services, among others, received funds.
While Bodhi Garden’s initial focus is providing fresh vegetables to combat local food insecurity, the secondary focus of horticultural therapy (HT) for mental health is what Mike considers the “secret sauce” of his initiative.
“Gardening and growing plants help people who are struggling connect with living things in a non-threatening way,” says Mike. “The structure and routines involved with gardening create safety without judgment. The relationship between a person and the plant can be so helpful for those impacted by trauma.” The added benefit is that gardening, or even walking through a garden, helps to promote positive social engagement. “Simply being around plants or nature can help a person stay calm and relaxed. This is important for those experiencing difficulties with trust and confidence.”
Bodhi will partner with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority to help provide access to fresh and nutritious produce to low-income and low-access communities. The EMTA is Bodhi’s first major indoor growing site on its journey to help Erie residents have access to physical and mental wellness. At the EMTA, Bodhi will participate in farmers’ markets featuring low-cost, locally grown items and offer mental health and community engagement opportunities by providing a space for meditation, yoga, and cooking classes.
To support the food production amounts needed by the EMTA, Mike and Bodhi Gardens have been allotted two acres by TC LogiQ to construct greenhouses in the Borough of North East, PA, north of Erie. The greenhouses will increase Bodhi’s ability to produce a wide range of produce and increase the total volume grown throughout the year.
In addition, Bodhi Garden’s model will be the subject of a senior capstone project by students studying environmental sustainability at Penn State University. The research and analysis will provide helpful feedback for Mike about Bodhi’s strengths, areas for improvement, and opportunities to consider for the future. “I’m looking to learn more about how we can use solar power and wind power to make our growing most effective,” says Mike, “and there are always new ways to reduce waste and recycle. That’s important, and it can help us create some jobs as we keep growing.”
For Mike, slow and steady growth has kept the initiative alive and thriving. Started as a small indoor garden at the Crisis Residential Unit of UPMC Safe Harbor, Mike’s idea that gardening can help calm a person experiencing a mental health crisis met with success. “The gardens let people see that they too can grow from the seeds planted in their heads, just as the plants have grown from the seeds planted in the garden. The plants have a lot to teach us.”
As part of that initiative’s evaluation, Mike conducted surveys and interviews with staff and clients about their experiences with the garden. Clients overwhelmingly agreed that the presence of a vegetable garden had a calming and uplifting effect on them. One client commented, “When I was getting admitted, that was the first thing that I saw. It was so calming, and it took my attention away from the negative thoughts I was having.”
The successful outcomes associated with the gardens at UPMC Safe Harbor encouraged him to develop his plan further when Erie’s ARP requests for proposals announcement was released. “Putting the proposal together took so much work, and lots of people who have been involved with Bodhi Gardens helped,” Mike explains, “It makes being selected for the funds all the more incredible, and I’m excited about this next phase.”
Looking to Get Involved?
Whether you identify as a healthcare provider, community organization, or Veteran, there are several opportunities through the NW PA Veteran Suicide Prevention Program and PERU to connect to resources, participate in educational training, and promote harm reduction strategies. We are actively recruiting healthcare and community partners to work with us in meeting our goals and objectives. To learn more, visit the program website at theresilientveteran.org.
Need Help? Know Someone Who Does? Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or use the online Lifeline Crisis Chat. Both are free and confidential. You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor in your area.