By Sue Geller
Congregation Or Atid is proud of its many congregants and the volunteers from the greater Richmond community who are working together to create the Gan Chesed “Kindness Garden” on the grounds of the synagogue.
The Gan Chesed Garden is designed to create a welcoming, safe outdoor space for children and adults of all ages and abilities to learn, play, and experience Judaism through the senses.
The garden helps build a bridge for kindness, connection, and understanding, and provides a mechanism to give back to the greater Richmond community, helping those in need.
The Garden is comprised of: a) a Jewish-themed garden that offers hands-on learning opportunities for all ages, b) a safe outdoor space for educational, holiday, and social programs c) an accessible, sensory-based outdoor play area for the inclusion of all children, including those who may be on the autism spectrum, or may have a sensory-processing disorder, or other learning needs, d) accessible garden beds to grow produce, promoting the practice of Tzedakah by donating most of the garden’s harvest to the food pantry at the Weinstein JCC, and e) a Memorial Rock Garden to honor Holocaust Survivors, victims, and their families, and to provide Holocaust educational opportunities.
Or Atid is grateful for financial support for the Garden from the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, Richmond Jewish Foundation, Am Yisrael Chai Daffodil Project, and from individual donors.
Volunteers have been busy throughout the spring building the different aspects of the garden. Congregant Terry Schultz, who is also an occupational therapist, has worked relentlessly with a team of student occupational therapists – Jtaijah Atkins, Madison Quesinberrry and Heather Guntrie – to build and install picture frames to stimulate the senses through textures, sounds, color, scent, intellect, and functional mobility.
The interactive outdoor sensory wall and accessible play equipment offer important elements for persons of all abilities to engage the basic senses with play including socialization skills for the development of essential daily living skills.
Other congregants have completed arduous outdoor clean up, planted vegetables in the accessible garden beds built by the Girl Scouts and Eagle Scouts, and begun the work to install a Tashlich water feature. Congregants also helped children from Congregation Or Ami and Or Atid plant blue and white flowers in the garden in commemoration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel Independence Day. Beth Sinclair, a volunteer from the greater Richmond community, spent endless hours painting a beautiful garden-themed mural on the garden wall.
The finishing touches will soon be placed on these Garden elements and other elements will be installed. The garden will soon be made available to the greater Richmond community. Children of all abilities and their families will be invited to schedule time to visit the garden and enjoy interacting with the sensory wall, accessible play equipment, and vegetable garden.