Community Garden Blossoms at Wellpoint Care Network
Wellpoint Care Network has officially opened its Community Garden for the summer. Neighbors near Milwaukee’s northwest side can claim garden plots to grow their own produce and plants. Volunteer gardeners — including employees, board members and community members — will help monitor growing.
“Our commitment to Trauma Informed Care compels us to use our campus to create positive community connections,” says Ann Leinfelder Grove, President and CEO of Wellpoint Care Network. “Gardening offers fresh foods, beautiful flowers and an energy that builds a strong community and thriving citizens.”
Community garden plots are still available! Interested?
positive community connections
Wellpoint Care’s vision is to transform our campus into a vibrant neighborhood anchor where children and families can thrive. The addition of the community garden space is another way we can “plant seeds” to grow together in connection and care.
“We are excited about the potential of all of the different things this community garden can be and represent,” says Alex Williams, Director of Community Engagement. “We hope to host mindfulness sessions through yoga and regulation, teach healthy growing and cooking classes, convene community potlucks, have story time for young people and to be a beautifully safe and welcoming gathering place for all.”
“There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment when that first vegetable is ready to be picked,” says Aubrey Winkie, Clinical Services Manager. “We want to create a space where everyone in the neighborhood has a chance to learn, grow and experience these triumphs alongside us.”
Planting an Idea
The idea for the community garden on campus began a few years back, as staff began learning about the numerous mental, physical and social benefits to accessible gardening.
“Life can be very stressful,” explains Starlet Hayes, Vice President of Mission Advancement. “Gardening teaches responsibility and patience, and can help relieve stress and increase wellness through movement and exercise. It creates the opportunity to slow down, be one with nature and connect with others.”
Elizabeth Morgan Smith, Occupational Therapist, often uses gardening in her sessions, where children find it easier to open up while digging in the dirt or pulling weeds. “When you’re outside, it’s just easier to think,” she says. “You’re in the moment, you’re not thinking about the other pressures of life.”
These outdoor sessions help children in a variety of ways, from building strength digging holes to expanding creativity and motor skills making signs for the garden. Caring for plant life also gives them valuable, hands-on experience in empathy and caring.
“We stick stuff in the ground and try to take care of it all the way to the end,” Morgan Smith explains. “It’s a nice metaphor for what they’re looking for — someone to care about them and to help them to grow.”
Feeding the Soul
Another positive outcome of a community garden is giving neighbors access to fresh fruits and vegetables — an option not available to many living in food deserts.
“Nutrition is an important element of a person’s physical and mental well-being,” says Leinfelder Grove. “Health is one of Wellpoint Care’s Five Pillars of Stability, the social determinants of health that create a strong foundation for well-being. And, who doesn’t love a crisp green bean or a juicy ripe tomato, right out of the garden?”
“Many of my kids have never even tried fresh veggies,” adds Morgan Smith. “They think vegetables are something that only comes out of a can. They’ve just never picked something, washed it and ate it. They’re surprised how good it can actually be.”
The implementation of the community garden is also a way for community members to gather together and take pride in where they live.
“Creating a neighborhood space where positive activity and engagement happens is another anchor activity in a strong community,” says Leinfelder Grove. “Relationships and friendships can blossom amongst the rows of peas or carrots. At Wellpoint Care, we believe that these caring connections are vital to people’s well-being. They help create safe and nurtured kids, strong families and a thriving community.”
“When a community garden exists, people feel personally invested in where they live, gaining a sense of ownership and community engagement,” adds Hayes. “Neighbors are out of their apartments and homes and gathering together. They’re keeping watch over the neighborhood, positively affecting the everyone and reducing negative activity.”
Well-being in bloom
The community garden will be for much more than just gardening. Plans are already in the works for a learning series and multiple therapeutic community events.
“We plan to have gardening classes, cooking lessons and tasting events, multicultural potlucks, children’s story time, a book club, yoga and regulation lessons,” says Winkie. “The hope is to increase access to opportunities that improve health, wellness and interconnectedness, teach transferrable skills and provide access to a safe community space that facilitates healing.”
An Organization Rooted in the Future
The community garden is part of an ongoing transformation of the historic 18-acre campus on Milwaukee’s northwest. This multi-year project will continue to engage community members, network partners and generous donors to create a vibrant neighborhood anchor where children and families can thrive.
“The community garden is a huge symbol of our future as an open place for the community,” says Hayes. “This is an invitation to the community: you are welcome here, and we want you to be a part of what Wellpoint Care is becoming.”
“Many good things have happened over the nearly 70 years of this facility’s history,” says Leinfelder Grove. “But for much of that time, it was not an open space that we invited others into. We were specifically focused on the care and treatment of children who had experienced trauma. We see the changes we’re making now as a way to widen our focus to the entire community.”
In addition to the community garden, the campus features a growing mental health clinic on campus and conference rooms and social spaces for community use. Soon, there will be a recreational walking path on campus and a public Social Hall where neighbors can grab a cup of coffee and relax.
“Our mission is to facilitate positive change,” says Leinfelder Grove. We see our future as more deeply involved in the community to create this change. The garden is a great reflection of our vision for the future. It is exciting!”
Whether you’re an experienced gardener or have never touched soil, there is a role for you to play in Wellpoint Care Network’s community garden.
“Families, clients and community members can claim one of the more than 40 plots available this year,” says WIlliams.
Organizations can support the garden through sponsorship or the donation of supplies. Volunteers are needed to help keep our garden looking great. And anybody can help raise awareness, activate quality programming, educate community members around topics like gardening, environmental justice, healthy eating and cooking.
“We want veteran gardeners and novices,” says Williams. “Gardening clubs, schools, and other organizations. Farm-to-table restaurateurs. Environmental justice advocates. Neighborhood families and friends. We want to talk to the entire community, but that’s who this garden is for.