Indiana Daily Student

LIFEDesigns builds community garden in response to the pandemic

<p>Casey Mangum and his father Garrett work on constructing the LIFEdesigns community garden on South Covey Lane. Casey Mangum is an active LIFEDesigns client and Garrett has a background in sustainable construction. </p>

Casey Mangum and his father Garrett work on constructing the LIFEdesigns community garden on South Covey Lane. Casey Mangum is an active LIFEDesigns client and Garrett has a background in sustainable construction.

A local nonprofit organization is working to construct a Bloomington community garden to provide improved services to their group home residents during the pandemic.

LIFEDesigns supports people with disabilities through housing, education and therapy. They have services focusing on behavior, health care and general assistance to make sure that residents at the group home are learning different social skills and making healthy decisions as independently as possible.

The garden will be located at 1826 S. Covey Lane, so that it’s close to the LIFEDesigns group homes on the same street. The construction is set to finish by Thanksgiving week, but the timeline is still being finalized.

LIFEDesigns Community Relations Specialist Robin Walker said volunteers interested in planting and maintaining the garden in the spring can visit the Bloomington Volunteer Network to sign up.

In the past, the organization had a day program for one group home, located on Highland Avenue in Southeast Bloomington, but the day program was shut down for the pandemic.

LIFEDesigns Director of Communications Kristen King said the day program was an activity allowing the home’s residents to visit rented plots at Willie Streeter Community Gardens and Switchyard Park for recreational gardening.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we make it easier for people in the neighborhood?’” King said. “How can we give them something to look forward to?”

She said a community garden among the group homes is ideal because it involves the entire neighborhood, is eco-friendly and can be an extension of the day program.

King said it pushes people in the homes to get outside more often and is a good and therapeutic habit to form. With this project, she said LIFEDesigns would reduce rent costs because they would be working on a plot they own.

King applied for the Tri Kappa annual grant requesting for an enclosed garden to accommodate 6-7 group homes as well as relevant gardening material such as shovels and hoses. Tri Kappa is a women’s community service group in Bloomington supporting projects with a positive communal effect.

King said they plan to dedicate the garden to Tri Kappa for helping provide a service to a group that is generally less financially stable.

“They’re helping us with the dream of this garden come true,” King said.

After construction, LIFEDesigns will teach group home residents about sustainability, composting and healthy habits with the community garden. Their education program will recruit volunteer instructors for planting classes.

In the spring, anyone age 15 or older can help with planting and construction. LIFEDesigns plans to build raised garden boxes at other homes with any remaining funds from this garden.

“We love our partnerships with IU,” King said. “This is a great experience for students interested in sustainability or students trying to do more relevant activities to their course load.”

King and Walker said they were excited for the community garden construction to finish and for people to start visiting and gardening there. They said they believe the group home residents will enjoy going there and will learn valuable skills to use elsewhere.

“Our best job is working ourselves out of a job,” King said. “It’s to teach them skills to be independent and more capable. If we teach them the skills necessary, they can do it on their own, and we’re not limiting their means of independence.”

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