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Finding Happiness and Building Resilience at Thomas & Palmer Brook

Posted Monday, July 6, 2020

As the stress and anxiety of the pandemic settled in last spring, Gwendolyn VanSant was looking for a place to get outside and find some peaceful solitude. She lives not far from Thomas & Palmer Brook reserve in Great Barrington, and took a walk there one day.

VanSant, the founder and CEO of BRIDGE, noticed the land acknowledgement sign, written in the Stockbridge Munsee language, at the reserve, and realized that it would be a great place to bring the families enrolled in BRIDGE’s summer program, called Happiness Toolbox. She asked BRIDGE’s educator, Stephanie Wright, to share the history of the local Munsee through the Happiness Toolbox Berkshire Legends class in preparation for one of their five socially distanced excursions.

“Teaching the children to honor the history and individuals that came before us was essential to adding depth to our summer experience,” says VanSant. “We practiced mindfulness of listening to the land, nature and the voices through the words of ancestors. We admired the resilience of the mushrooms, berries and small animals on the reserve and related it to our own resilience in the time of the pandemic.”

The program builds positive character traits such as resilience through creativity, play and skillbuilding—everything from clown workshops to beekeeping and much more. This year most of the program was conducted on Zoom, so the leaders were glad to have the chance to bring the families—children from 3-12, highschool leaders and some parents— to BNRC’s reserve.

The visit focused on two main themes, said one of the group leaders, Maya Richards: storytelling and connecting to and honoring the land. Bands like the Stockbridge Munsee tell stories to learn more about their past or connect with people who have different experiences, and the group shared their own stories. Seeing the plants that grew on the trail, like red clover and thyme, some of the women talked about how they used similar herbs back in Mexico to create remedies, and Stephanie Wright spoke of family traditions.

Richards, a yoga teacher, led a mindfulness activity with yoga poses, breathing exercises, and an expression of gratitude to the land, the ancestors who lived there, and the non-human inhabitants who live there now.

The students made handmade books and rubbings of interesting things they found, so that they would “take only pictures, leave only footprints.”

“We were so appreciative that we could use the space,” Richards said, “and find the human contact we were all craving while also feeling such gratitude for the land.”

Explore Thomas & Palmer Brook Reserve