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Trauma Focused Therapeutic Community (TFTC) Gardens – Community Update

“Gardening is a metaphor for life, teaching you to nourish new life and weed out that which cannot succeed.” Nelson Mandela


In 2013 Natasha Donnnelly completed a Ph.D. study that analyzed over 350 stories written by those who had lived through a serious suicide attempt. Findings from this study included that small changes during a time of serious suicidal contemplation can institute a change of mind. For example, a text from a friend, a pet knocking over the pills and many other small examples demonstrate how the suicidal person was suddenly reconnected with the present(Donnelly, 2013).

Those who lived to share their stories shared that they used a range of resiliency or calming strategies to cope with future challenges, and they also realized that their family and society did not want to lose them (Donnelly, 2013). This led to work that looked at how environments and helpful strategies could be used to reduce the risk of suicide and assist all of us with learning new stress busting techniques and finding ways to share garden stories with others. This led to indoor and outdoor spaces designed with simple resiliency strategies to improve the quality of day to day life and wellness.

The latest buzz words in mental health policy, advocacy and research are associated with trauma. Trauma is a bad experience or experiences that anyone of us may have been through in childhood going into adulthood. These experiences have an impact on how we feel and how we act and respond emotionally. We now know that these unfortunate events can affect how we handle challenging situations in the future. These experiences can affect both our mental and physical health. We all need to learn techniques to help us with our day to day wellness and recovery. Some of you may have come across professionals using Adverse Childhood Event (ACE) Assessments. These assessments provide what are called ACE Scores (Evans and Coccoma, 2014, CDC, 2019). Your ACE score shares how many types of negative events you have experienced. They use these scores to provide what is called trauma-informed or trauma responsive care. This is important for recovery and assisting a person to be able to live their best life because it is based on a holistic assessment about the impact of trauma on a survivor’s life (Evans and Coccoma, 2014).

Childhood trauma or adverse events may include the impact of living in poverty, witnessing, and or experiencing violence, including physical, sexual and emotionally toxic actions. Experiencing these traumatic events increases the risk of developing depression or thoughts of suicide, lack of trust in adults, inability to relax due to a state of high alert, unstable mood expression, anxiety, phobias, and many other physical and mental health issues. In the U.S. between 33 and 66% of young people will experience multiple adverse events (or traumas) (Copeland, Keeler, Angold, & Costello, 2007; Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Hamby, 2005),

This new focus on how your life experience affects your mental and physical health is important because now we can design strategies that can help. TFTC Gardens is a new idea to help people learn relaxing techniques such as breathing, enjoying art, sounds, shared experiences and the touch and smells of sensory plants. Each TFTC Garden or indoor space is designed using up to date research and instructions on simple stress busting strategies that we can all use.

Current News

TFTC Gardens is delighted to have started work at the Cumberland Juvenile Detention Center with the design and implementation of the first TFTC Garden. To be a TFTC Garden, the organization must include the structures recommended by the TFTC Gardens Team. These recommendations will help to promote mental wellbeing using resiliency strategies that we described earlier. The TFTC Gardens team has spent the last two years carrying out extensive mental health research including international networking, concept sharing, strategy development and creation of ideas for Juvenile Justice including providing support with grant applications.

Recently the TFTC Gardens team have been networking extensively in the Fayetteville area. They have discovered an incredible community who are supporting Juvenile Justice with the building phase of the garden. Reka Reyna, Outreach Co-ordinator, Steven A. Cohn Military Family Clinic, has done an outstanding job of organizing a group of volunteers from the local

police departments, military groups, and veterans. We also have support of the Master Gardeners with Cape Fear Botanical Gardens and other local Fayetteville organizations.

Using generous public donations TFTC Gardens has funded a water feature and beautiful wall mural designed by Edie Cohn and painted by artists Edie Cohn and Jerdahn Campbell. Volunteers visited the detention center to help prep and prepare the wall for the mural. We are now excited to be moving forward to complete this project and then begin supporting another non-profit organization with the implementation of a specially designed TFTC Garden.

We look forward to hearing from you! We are always looking for volunteers to join the TFTC Gardens Team and generous donors who will help make our trauma-informed therapeutic community gardens possible. Community is everything.

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