Volunteer’s Passion Helps Fund Therapy Garden Project

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A metro woman looks forward to her volunteer time each week. The passion she shows for the organization she helps has helped it get a big project off the ground.

Spending time at On With Life in Ankeny is the bright spot of Janelle Conley’s week. The retired music teacher spends a few hours  there each Wednesday. “I enjoy visiting with persons served, and also their families. I realize they're kind of uprooted from their routine of their daily lives,” she said.

The Brain Injury Rehabilitation Center helps people who've had strokes, been in car accidents, or suffered some type of injury to the brain.  "It's one of those things we hope our family members won't have to use this, but if it's here, that I would hope they would know the true benefits," she said.

The facility recently expanded and started turning the land behind the building into an outdoor therapy space, and it was her passion that had a role in getting the first part of the project, a butterfly garden, off the ground.

A foundation based states away donated $40,000 to On With Life in honor of Conley's volunteer service. “My brother is the treasurer of the Meinders Foundation, which is based out of Oklahoma City, and a couple years ago when she was visiting, he asked to come visit as I had shared many stories with him about the facility."

The butterfly garden is actually in the shape of a butterfly. It's part of a bigger project at On With Life. The area behind the building will eventually be a garden designed in the shape of a brain. On With Life Recreation Therapist Kim Reed said, "Each area of the garden is going to be set up to a different area of the brain, so the person served can go in there and kind of without knowing it, they'll be accessing those different areas of the brain, so maybe it will be more sensory area, or a more visual area or the olfactory area where things might be more fragrant."

Therapists say the uneven surfaces and opportunities to reach for things in nature will also help persons served. It will take about three years to finish the entire garden. Conley says she's honored her service helped get the project started, but what she takes away is really the blessing.

"You never know what kind of day a person is having, and I truly realize life is really precious and that there's nothing we want to take for granted because many things can be taken away so quickly," she said.

Conley started volunteering five years ago after seeing an article in the paper. You can visit On With Life’s website for more information about volunteering or donating to the garden.