Program provides haven for women - Catholic Courier

Program provides haven for women

Over the past decade hundreds of women and children have found their lives changed for the better because of their interaction with a "dream" of a program called Herb Haven.

Herb Haven, which was formed in 1998, is an herbal-gardening and retail-training program that helps women who are striving to become self-sufficient, according to its founder, Deb Denome. The program has thrived and expanded over the past decade thanks to generous donors and a number of grants, including a 2007 grant for $2,000 from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the U.S. bishops’ domestic anti-poverty and social-justice program.

Herb Haven is a project of Seeking Common Ground, a nonprofit educational organization Denome founded in 1997 with four of her coworkers. All five women worked together in a corporate-education setting, but all five were interested in organic gardening and longed to find a way to put their skills to use doing something closer to their homes and their hearts, Denome said.

Her 6-month-old daughter’s cancer diagnosis spurred Denome and her coworkers to take the plunge and found Seeking Common Ground, which is dedicated to "exploring, modeling and inspiring more conscious and restorative ways of life," she said. The first thing the organization did was found the Shimmering Light Community Garden, where families come together to plant, cultivate and harvest organic vegetables. Denome said working in this garden was very fulfilling, and she often brought her children with her when she worked.

Soon, however, Denome got the feeling she was supposed to be doing something more. She followed through on that feeling, and the formation of Herb Haven in 1998 represented a dream come true for Denome.

"It was a literal dream, actually," she said. "One night I had this dream where I saw a lot of different women and children coming to the farm and learning about herbs in particular and just getting closer to the earth."

The vivid dream resonated with Denome and stuck with her. When she told some of her friends about the dream and the educational program it depicted, to her surprise they supported the idea and they even put her in touch with people who could help make the dream a reality.

"It was just magical how it unfolded after that. We do feel that it was divinely inspired or it probably wouldn’t have come together the way it has," she said.

Herb Haven was formed within a few weeks, and through this program Denome and her colleagues began teaching women how to plant, cultivate and harvest herbs and how to use those herbs to make and sell retail products. Some of Herb Haven’s first programs were held in such places as the Ontario County Jail and Rochester’s Sojourner House, which provides transitional housing to women in crisis. Soon agencies were coming to Denome and asking her to bring Herb Haven to their clients.

Herb Haven operated this way until 2007, when it began operating out of a donated property and building in Crystal Beach, near Canandaigua. The property was donated by a generous individual who wishes to remain anonymous, Denome said.

"That allowed us to expand the program and have a dedicated home. It was actually donated in 2006, but we spent the winter renovating it. It had everything we needed," she said.

Now program participants come to Herb Haven, rather than Denome taking Herb Haven to them. This arrangement has worked out well, although Denome said she hopes to soon resume her former practice of bringing the program to incarcerated women. Herb Haven is still growing, and recently opened a gift shop at its location at 4487 E. Lake Road.

The use of this donated facility has allowed Herb Haven participants a greater degree of flexibility, Denome said.

"We definitely work with the seasons. In the warmer months we’re out in the garden, and in the cooler months we’re more making the products inside," she said.

One of the things that makes Herb Haven unique from other programs is its children’s component, Denome said. While their mothers are learning about herbs, preschool-aged children take part in their own program, where they cook, garden and make crafts.

"They basically imitate healthy adults and learn their own life skills. We’re trying to create a holistic approach that embraces the family," Denome said.

This children’s component is crucial for many women, who often want to better their lives and enroll in similar programs but can’t afford to pay for child care while they’re at those programs.

"If they want to be able to make a change in their lives, they need to be able to know their children are safe," Denome said.

Herb Haven clients have included women in recovery from addictions, women with mental-health issues and women seeking vocational training. Most participants are referred to the program by another agency, but women are free to apply to the program on their own, Denome said.

"(The program) helps people develop a sense of self-sufficiency, being able to know that through their own efforts they can make a living at something. You can see the results of your efforts at gardening fairly quickly," she said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about Herb Haven or Seeking Common Ground, contact Deb Denome at 585-394-7610 or visit www.seekingcommonground.org.

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