A safe spot to unwind

Miriam’s Garden offers solace for sexual abuse survivors

Administrators and counselors at the Sexual Violence Center in the Whittier neighborhood said their garden does more than provide pretty greenery, it helps heal survivors of sexual violence, their clients, and to calm staff who work with them.

The Sexual Violence Center, 2100 Pillsbury Ave., started in 1985 and provides services to survivors of sexual violence in Hennepin, Carver and Scott Counties. SVC provides counseling, support groups, advocacy, legal clinics and education. The nonprofit also operates a 24-hour crisis line and provides rape counselors to help survivors through hospital and legal procedures. Administrators describe the garden as an additional service or healing tool of a different sort.

The healing garden, or Miriam’s Garden, is located at the center of SVC. It is approximately 300 square feet, spanning the length of the south side of the old brick building, and features a walking path, a trellis, a water fountain, numerous markers donated by sexual violence survivors or their families and a small goldfish pond. (Note: Goldfish are kept inside in tanks during the colder months.)

How the center uses the garden to heal

Executive Director Abigail Fisher said the garden gives survivors of sexual violence a place to sit in a peaceful setting and reflect — something not always easily found in the busy city.

"In the middle of dealing with such a horrible issue, it’s hard to let go of anger," said Fisher. "When clients have a moment to not be angry it’s really soothing."

Rebecca Waggoner Kloek, the direct services manager who oversees SVC’s crisis line and advocacy services, said the garden provides a vital sense of healing for some of their clients. "People heal from sexual violence in a variety of ways, and for some nature is a way [to heal]," she said.

Waggoner Kloek also said the garden offers workers and volunteers a place to have a sense of solitude. "We get a lot of really hard calls," she said. "It’s very stressful work, and the garden is a place we can go to be peaceful and recharge."

Fisher said that their clients and volunteers have taken to the garden so much that many often come to help with its maintainence and upkeep. In addition, she said a volunteer was even married in the garden last year.

How the garden came to be

Waggoner Kloek said a counselor for the center, Caroline (to protect anonymity, last names are not used at the center), was killed in 1994 after being hit by a bus. A large tree, now growing in front of the building, was donated in her honor as part of funeral donations.

Shortly after that, a volunteer, Miriam, died of a heart attack just months into her work at the center. Waggoner Kloek said her family and friends donated money following her death to pay for a garden, often referred to as Miriam’s Garden.

The garden grew from there. While the donations from the friends and family of past volunteers started it, many people, including businesses, have helped the garden to flourish.

Waggoner Kloek said Linder’s Greenhouse of St. Paul and other landscaping companies have provided many plants and flowers for the garden over the years.

Fisher said the parents of a sexual violence survivor donated a bench for the garden to show their appreciation for the services they provided. She said another important donation to the garden is a tiled pillar monument that has it’s own story to tell tile by tile. Each one of the vibrantly colored tiles represents a woman who died in prostitution, Fisher said, made by someone who knew them.

Donating to the garden, she said, has been a catharsis for many of their clients. "It’s a way for people to give back," Fisher said.

For more information on SVC services or to inquire about volunteer opportunities, call 871-5100 or visit www.sexualviolencecenter.org.