In the heart of Chelmsford, nestled on the grounds of Incompass Human Services, a garden flourishes. A garden that holds a special place for the individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities that we support. It’s a sanctuary, a place where these individuals find purpose and can develop a connection with nature. With the guidance of caring staff members, they are learning to cultivate the earth. The act of tending to the garden has become a therapeutic journey, fostering personal growth and a sense of achievement.
The mastermind behind it all is Activities Specialist Cathy Brunelle. If you ask her, though, she will tell you that the garden’s success is due to contributions from many staff and individuals across Incompass from our Community Based Day Services (CBDS) and TREE programs to administrative staff and community members.
Always thinking about new and innovative ways to engage Incompass day program participants, she drew her initial inspiration from a leisurely New England day trip.
“While visiting Cape Cod, I came across a day program that had a beautiful, sustainable garden. I wanted that for our guys back home. We can do that,” said Brunelle.
Each season begins with packets of seeds that are distributed in the day program halls – allowing each day habilitation room to contribute to the garden. As the months pass, you’ll find trellises filled with varieties of beans, beds of squash, sturdy stalks of onions, leafy carrot tops, and budding tomatoes.
A unique aspect of the program is that the harvested produce serves a dual purpose. Some find their way to the day program kitchen, where culinary skill-building activities turn fresh ingredients into delicious meals. Depending on the size of the harvest, produce can also be shared with the Incompass group homes that are spread across Greater Lowell and Greater Lawrence.
Beyond the tangible rewards, the garden provides a safe space for personal growth. Amidst the vibrant blooms, communication skills blossom. The therapeutic power of nature works its magic, fostering patience, resilience, and empathy among the participants.
Ironically, it was during the COVID shutdown that the garden concept really took off. When Incompass shifted to virtual programs and services, Brunelle decided it was the perfect time to offer an online class on gardening. As interest in the topic grew, individuals and staff were encouraged to expand their knowledge of agriculture.
Beau, a day program participant, was thrilled to get his hands dirty in the garden, once he returned to in-person programming. He is pictured with his latest haul – carrots, and onions – and he takes so much pride in nurturing the growth of his vegetables!
And so, year after year, the therapeutic garden at Incompass Human Services continues to flourish, serving as a testament to the transformative power of nature and the unwavering spirit of those who tend it. And as Brunelle points out, it’s a perfect opportunity for members of the communities we serve to volunteer and be a part of a wonderful and collaborative activity!