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

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Hospitals in counties Huron and Perth are increasingly being supported by volunteers to provide restful spaces for the province’s overworked health workers.

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One Bench One Tree unveiled its latest project at St Marys Memorial Hospital on Tuesday, where a group of frontline workers in gowns and masks took a brief break to enjoy the latest addition to the hospital landscape.

“The gesture is wonderful,” said Andrew Williams, executive director of the Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance. “It’s a reminder of the great work that healthcare professionals are doing and … in the context of the pandemic, how they have stepped up to support their communities. We are very excited to be part of the program.”

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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 on Tuesday, said the idea came about during a virtual Christmas party.

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“It seems kind of crazy,” DeJong recalls. “This is where we enjoy ourselves and frontline workers suffer from anxiety and go to work every day. I said, ‘There has to be a way we can give back.’”

The group originally considered delivering bouquets of roses to nearby hospitals, but quickly decided something more permanent would make a bigger impact.

“The simplest, simplest, most basic design we could think of is a bench and a tree, and that’s what we made,” DeJong said.

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DeJong and six of his classmates have since raised funds and recruited sponsors from the community to make the small landscaping projects a reality. Since then, they’ve put up new benches and planted new trees in 20 Ontario hospitals and plan to keep going.

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

Each project doesn’t have much to offer, but offering healthcare workers a new place to take a break has made a world of difference. The gesture even brought some to tears, DeJong said.

“The gift from the bank turns out to be the biggest part of it,” he said. “We didn’t realize how important that remainder would be in the storytelling. We let them pause for a moment and they didn’t really realize where they were.”

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A bench and tree were also added to the Stratford General Hospital grounds. The Clinton and Seaforth projects are expected to be completed soon.

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

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