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Mark May: Laying the grounds for therapeutic healing

Most gardeners will tell you their work is never done. They’ll weed a vegetable bed, and realize the roses need pruning. Next, they’ll see the bushes near the front door get too much sun and should be moved. Then they decide to rig a rainwater container and maybe replace some sod in a patch of lawn that doesn’t grow well.

Maintaining the RiverBend Wellness House landscaping is no different. Because it was designed to have its lawn and gardens be an integral part of its programming, the gardeners here are tasked with an important role. Here they aren’t simply doing lawn maintenance, they’re literally laying the grounds for therapeutic healing.

Mark May, a volunteer at RiverBend, has become devoted to RiverBend’s lawn and many gardens—just as he has to the organization itself. From the time the Wellness House opened in May 2015, he’s worked with landscape architect Tim Bonadies to ensure the grounds have a solid foundation to be sustainable for decades to come.

Mark and Tim have taken the 1.5-acre blank canvas that was RiverBend’s lawn and transformed it into a sanctuary that now includes a butterfly garden, raised (and abundant) vegetable beds, flowering trees, bushes, statuaries, rock formations and grass. Next spring, they’ll begin work on a meditation labyrinth.

Connecting to RiverBend’s programming in this way is part of a personal journey for Mark. In early 2005, he was diagnosed with sinus cancer. It was a devastating diagnosis for a man who’d worked non-stop, starting long before he could even drive. Thirty rounds of radiation, followed by chemotherapy, subsequent cataract surgery, the discovery and removal of another tumor which had settled behind his left eye, a loss of his peripheral vision and a long legal battle relating to his cancer gave him little time to catch his breath over the past 10 years.

To cope, he began seeing Susan Sandock, Client Advocate and Counselor at RiverBend. It was his introduction to the services RiverBend offered. It was Sandock who invited him to the Wellness House’s new location and its open house.

“It was like the Lord had a plan for me,” Mark said. “As soon as I got here, I knew there was work I could do.” He’s not stopped since. He’s a regular volunteer now, familiar to all the staff. He brings them treats and pays close attention to what’s happening there.

“Mark is such a big help,” says Kate Voelker, Executive Director. “He’s observant, he notices when things need attention, and then he takes care of it. He’s helped keep costs down for us by doing it himself. And, he’s just a great guy. He cares about the staff and the people who come to our programming. And we certainly care about him!”

Mark’s wife and daughter, and a deep bond with his family have been keys in his recovery, but it’s his efforts to help other cancer survivors and their families that’s helped him move forward. And knowing Mother Nature and her unpredictability, he’s now ready for anything.

If you’re interested in learning more about the therapeutic gardens or to volunteer at RiverBend Cancer Services, please call 574-287-4197 for more information.

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