Something happens to us when we are outside. And, no, I am not just talking about noticing that you might need a light jacket or, on the other hand, it’s incredibly hot. Of course, you notice the weather first and foremost. But there’s more. You see, spending time outdoors can change you in ways you may not ever think about.
Some believe there is a science to it at the most cellular level. Being outdoors can affect your mood, your ability to be creative or social and your overall health. Maybe it goes back to a primal need. No matter how much life forces us indoors, that need remains, pulling us to get outside, smell the flowers, touch the leaves and breathe in that fresh air.
Florence Williams, the author of “The Nature Fix,” wrote, “We don’t experience natural environments enough to realize how restored they can make us feel. … they make us more healthy, creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and each other.”
There is indeed a healing power just outside our door, a little-known secret that the Charleston Parks Conservancy wants everyone in on. In fact, that is their mission. They work to elevate our parks so that the general public can connect with them.
You may have seen their work at Colonial Lake or maybe at the Hampton Park Rose Pavilion. Or maybe you have visited one of the 22 other locations that they have beautified. And I am guessing you probably didn’t know that those locations were created by the generosity of the Park Angels, the volunteer group that maintains many of the Charleston Parks Conservancy’s greens paces. If it wasn’t for these volunteers getting their hands dirty, many of the gardens we enjoy today would not exist.
In 2019, the Charleston Parks Conservancy had around 600 volunteers who put in 7,910 hours. The groups meet at the parks at specific times set by the Parks Conservancy so that a horticulturalist can be on-site to direct, guide and answer any questions the volunteers might have. For volunteers, any level of experience is acceptable because the Parks Conservancy educates them on how to garden.
English Drews has been volunteering as a Park Angel since 2015. She wanted to get involved because she grew up in the Charleston area and sought to contribute to beautifying the green spaces.
She was also transitioning from working full-time and was looking for an organization she could volunteer with that would take her outdoors. For her, becoming a Park Angel was a perfect fit.
“I have always loved gardens, but I never had the talent or the time to have one,” she said. “Volunteering as a Park Angel taught me a new skill, and I just started to feel better overall, too. Just all of it – being outside, the physical part, meeting new people. My health improved and my palate even shifted as I started to eat healthier. I felt more restored as I made connections with the environment and with my community.”
In fact, the food they grow in their community beds goes straight back to groups in the local area. They donate more than 2,000 pounds a year to organizations such as the Lowcountry Food Bank, Neighborhood House, AMOR Healing Kitchen and One80 Place.
Park Angels learn to prune, plant, mulch and compost, and, right now, they are prepping their parks for the spring.
Rachel Barry, volunteer manager for the Charleston Parks Conservancy, said, “Many people probably don’t know that it is volunteers who create and maintain many of the flower beds they enjoy. I have had some people thank me, but I always go right back around and thank them. I want to thank them for using the parks. Nothing gives us greater joy than to see people enjoying themselves outdoors in our parks.”
The Charleston Parks Conservancy works hand-in-hand with the city of Charleston, but they are a nonprofit, funded by grants and donations.
As we move through our busy lives, it’s the Charleston Parks Conservancy and their Park Angels reminding us to stop and smell the roses. For more information on the Charleston Parks Conservancy and its volunteer programs, visit www.charlestonparksconservancy.org.
By Theresa Stratford