Volunteer gardeners unite to help local domestic violence center

Volunteers from 23 states and Canada worked last week to build a new playground and garden at Project DOVE in Ontario. (The Enterprise/Kristine de Leon)

ONTARIO – The grass is looking a little greener at Project DOVE.

On Saturday, 67 gardeners from 23 states and two Canadian provinces came together to plant a garden and build a playground at the domestic violence shelter in Ontario.

Love for a local video blogger brought them. Volunteers were inspired by Ontario-based gardening expert Laura LeBoutillier, creator of Garden Answer, a series of garden-themed videos with over half a million YouTube subscribers and 2.6 million followers on Facebook. Laura Parker of Utah organized the event. Parker wanted a community service project for fans to connect with LeBoutillier. After scouting several local organizations, they settled on Project DOVE.

“As a mom there is nothing more restful than watching my children play and me getting a second to just sit on a bench and watch them,” Parker said. “I can just imagine how therapeutic that would be for me as a mom in a crisis.”

The shelter, which is serving 16 women and 11 children this quarter, had no outdoor activities, particularly for kids. A playground and vegetable garden now sprout from where there was once nothing but patches of grass.

Patio furniture replaced plastic lawn chairs, and, in the corner, a fountain will soon bubble in the newly landscaped “healing garden. ”

“It’ll make them feel so much more at home, or as home as they could feel in a place that isn’t home,” said Joan Carfi, administrative assistant at the center. “It’s like your own backyard now.”

Project DOVE opened as a small shelter in 1981 and has grown since then. Betty Carter, board member and treasurer, said the makeover Saturday would instill hope at the shelter.

“They will get perspective as to how life can be,” she said.Organizers paid attention to detail.

They used gravel instead of sand in the play area, and even tucked a fireproof cigarette canister into a corner with fire damage from a previous accident. Parker planned the project for 14 months. Ticket costs were $310. The event sold out in three minutes, a testament to LeBoutillier’s popularity, Parker said.

“It feels surreal,” LeBoutillier said Saturday as fans gathered around while she inspected garden hoses and plants. 

Parker started watching Garden Answer videos a few years ago. She wasn’t a gardener before, but, she said, “Now I’ve changed my whole yard.”

After Parker approached her, LeBoutillier put out a call to her subscribers, asking for donations. She also worked with her sponsors who donated flowers and shade trees, among other items. A GoFundMe page raised $7,631.

As the volunteers wrapped up, leaving behind donated items such as diapers and cleaning supplies, Carter quietly wiped a few tears from her eyes, “I think this is our new beginning.”

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