‘A fresh start’: New garden offers women an opportunity for growth at Lawrence rehab

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- A group of women in Lawrence going through recovery are getting an opportunity to grow -- all thanks to a new garden.

"This is where the tomatoes will all grow up, and basil, and cucumbers will cover this over," Nancy O'Connor said. She oversees the garden at First Step Rehabilitation Services. "It's deep healing. It's peace. It's being able to see a product that came from you. It's recovery."

A garden, sprinkler system and orchard were all donated by United Healthcare. The company gave the facility a $3,600 grant to fund the upgrades.

They believe through the garden the women will learn to grow healthy food and improve overall health in the area.

"People who are trying to get healthier," said Michael Margherio, executive director of the Kansas market. "They're going through a phase where they're trying to improve their lives, and we have the opportunity to help them."

Women like Chasity Baber who went through the program herself.

"This is the foundation of my recovery," Baber said. "I came straight here from prison, so I was really broken."

Now Baber works as a peer support specialist at First Step and is almost five years sober.

The garden wasn't there during her time at the facility, but she's so glad women have the opportunity to learn and eat food they grew themselves.

"They thrive off of it," Baber said. "You know, and then to be able to grow these things, and they eat everything here, is quite amazing to them."

First Step allows children to stay with their mothers during treatment, so O'Connor said gardening and health eating can span generations.

"Working with the kiddos picking cherry tomatoes that they'll eat for snacks -- that's healing that's going on, and not just on the Vitamin C level," O'Connor said.

"Very heartening to be able to help, to see the impact that our grant has on people who are getting healthier in their life," Margherio said.

O'Connor and Baber sat together to plant a flower in the garden. O'Connor explained flowers can be a lot like people.

"It's resilient like the women here," O'Connor said. "It can stand heat, and drought, and it still blossoms."

"You're feeding yourself in recovery to get stronger, and build more," Baber said.

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