BRIDGEWATER – Envisioning “a place of remembrance, reflection and solace for all the lives affected, lost, inspired and forever changed by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Leadership Somerset Class of 2020 recently completed a meditation garden on the grounds of Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center.
Members of the class were joined by community partners last month to celebrate the meditation garden. Somerset County Commissioner Paul Drake, Leadership Somerset liaison, cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the garden, a community service project completed by the class.
“Each year, Leadership Somerset asks class members to complete a project that gives back to the community,” Drake said. “The required social distancing in 2020 made completing a project an even bigger challenge for this class. I admire the group’s dedication and resilience to wait until 2021 to create a meditation garden that recognizes the impact COVID has had on our community and offers a friendly place for people to sit, reflect and enjoy the garden.”
Leadership Somerset is a year-long community leadership program for adults who live or work in Somerset County. Class members meet monthly to explore Somerset County through the lens of a variety of topics, and each class also completes one or more group community service projects.
Early into their year in the program, the class of 2020 found themselves meeting on Zoom rather than in person for their monthly gatherings. The pandemic was part of what inspired them to conceptualize the meditation garden, a space for healing and remembrance, as the legacy of the Leadership Somerset class that had been at the center of such a challenging year.
The class persevered and saw their project through to completion even though their formal program commitment concluded in December of 2020. Class member Rita Donald, one of the project leaders, thanked her classmates for their dedication and hard work on many “hot sweaty Saturdays” to finish the garden.
“It was a great opportunity for us to get to know each other, besides it being a really nice thing to do for the community,” Donald said.
“It was such a challenging year with the pandemic,” class member Jessica Dale said. “It was hard, but everybody was willing to complete the project. It just came together.”
After exploring possible locations, the grounds of Richard Hall Community Mental Health Center on Vogt Drive, across the street from the Bridgewater Library, was selected as the site. The garden is within walking distance of neighboring Middle Earth, a nonprofit youth service organization. Both organizations will share in the enjoyment and maintenance of the garden.
Members of the public also are welcome to visit and enjoy the mediation garden.
Benches and chairs line the perimeter of the circular garden which is adorned with plants and flower boxes to create a tranquil atmosphere for gathering or solitude.
The garden is the result of a collective effort of volunteers and donors. The Somerset County Vo-Tech Carpentry Class of 2021 built and donated benches. Central Jersey Nurseries, Ambleside Gardens and Nursery and Caffrey Tree Service donated plants and shrubberies. The Somerset County Park Commission and Somerset County Master Gardeners provided guidance on the development of the project and Landscape Architect Katherine Hughes of Somerville helped to design the garden. Leadership Somerset class member Michelle Bernal, who could not complete the program due to a move out of state, donated $1,000 to lend her support of the project.
Leadership Somerset Class of 2022 applications will be accepted in October. For more information, contact Leadership Somerset Program Director Denise Katula at [email protected] or visit the county website.