One Bench One Tree helps health-care workers take a load off

One Bench One Tree helps health care workers take a load

A growing volunteer effort to offer restful outdoor spaces for the province’s overworked health-care workers has reached hospitals in Huron and Perth counties.

One Bench One Tree unveiled its latest project at St. Marys Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, where a group of front-line workers in scrubs and masks took a short break to enjoy the newest addition to the hospital’s landscape.

“The gesture is wonderful,” said Andrew Williams, the chief executive of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance. “It is a reminder of the great work health-care professionals do and … in the context of the pandemic, how they’ve stepped up to support their communities. We’re really pleased to be part of the program.”

One Bench One Tree was launched last year by a group of post-graduate landscape architecture students at the University of Guelph. Founder Everett DeJong, who was in St. Marys for Tuesday’s event, said the idea sprouted during a virtual Christmas social.

“This seems kind of crazy,” DeJong remembers thinking. “Here we are enjoying ourselves and front-line workers are suffering anxiety and going to work everyday. I said, ‘There’s got to be a way that we could give back.’”

The group originally thought about delivering bouquets of roses to nearby hospitals but quickly decided that something more permanent would make a greater impact.

“The simplest, the easiest, most basic design we could come up with is one bench and one tree and so that’s what we did,” DeJong said.

DeJong and six of his classmates have since been raising funds and recruiting community sponsors to make the small-scale landscape projects a reality. They’ve since installed new benches and planted new trees at 20 hospitals in Ontario and they plan to keep going.

One Bench One Tree is also part of Trees for Health Ontario, a larger group doing similar work.

There’s not much to each project, but offering health-care workers a new spot to take a break has made a big difference. The gesture has even brought some to tears, DeJong said.

“The gift of the bench is turning out to be the biggest part of it,” he said. “We didn’t realize how important that rest was going to (be) in the narrative of the story. We gave them a moment of pause and they hadn’t really realized where they had been.”

A bench and a tree have also been added to the grounds at Stratford General Hospital. Projects in Clinton and Seaforth are expected to be completed soon.

“I think we’ll be able to keep it up for a long time,” DeJong said. “You can take this simple concept and apply it anywhere. Right now we’re focusing on the hospitals and the frontline workers but there’s no reason why (it couldn’t be expanded).”

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