Nfld. & Labrador

$50K donation helps Stella's Circle reach more people through art, animals and gardening

A therapy program allowing people to blow off steam in non-traditional ways is getting a big boost from Fortis.

N.L.'s Fortis gives money for expressive therapy program

Kevin Williams tends to a table of art created through the expressive therapy program. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

A therapy program allowing people to blow off steam in non-traditional ways is getting a big boost from a local utility company.

Stella's Circle has a program called expressive therapy, which gives people therapeutic options through gardening, playing music, and creating art.

The program got a $50,000 boost on Monday when Fortis presented a giant cheque to Stella's Circle.

It's helped me because it's taught me a lot about staying calm.- Jeff Dwyer

That's great news for Jeff Dwyer, a participant who's been involved in horticultural therapy for the last few months. He's been growing "pretty much a little bit of everything."

"Lettuce, pumpkin, blueberries, onion, parsley … I think we have some broccoli ready to go," he said.

While the plants have been growing, so has Dwyer.

Jeff Dwyer is a participant in the expressive therapy program at Stella's Circle. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"It's helped me because it's taught me a lot about staying calm, and not overreacting when things don't work exactly [right] the first time," he said. "Instead of just sitting there talking to someone, you actually get to go and do something, and feel better about yourself. You get to express yourself through your gardening."

A lot of the vegetables and fruits that Dwyer and his peers grow end up in the community through programs like Hungry Heart, which he says can be the most rewarding part of the process.

"It makes you feel good that you can give sustainability back to Newfoundland."

The program seems to be working. Dwyer prefers expressive therapy to traditional talk-based counselling.

"It's a lot better because instead of just sitting there talking to someone, you actually get to go and do something and feel better about yourself," he said. "You express yourself through your gardening. Like if you're in a really happy mood you can take some colourful flowers and plant them. If you're feeling down? Plant some vegetables."

Other types of counselling built in

It's not just plants that are changing notions of traditional therapy — the program also encompasses yoga, equine and art therapy. Kevin Williams is a community support worker that specializes in art therapy. 

Kevin Williams is a community support worker who helps participants in art therapy sessions. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

He said keeping participants occupied with painting while they discuss their problems allows them to be less guarded and more conversational.

"You go to a traditional therapy session and you're a little guarded. That's human beings being human beings. But if you're sitting around, focused on this, having a chat, the barriers go down, the walls come down, the sharing starts," he said.

This is art created by people in the expressive therapy program. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Lisa Browne, CEO of Stella's Circle, said the donation is a huge contribution to the organization. Prior to the donation, Stella's Circle couldn't regularly offer expressive therapy.

The organization is six months into a campaign to raise $1 million. The Fortis donation pushes it past the halfway point.

There are about 100 people taking part in the expressive therapy program, but Browne hopes they can expand that to 1,000 if they reach their full fundraising goal.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Zach Goudie