Tree Therapy

By DeCoster, Lester | American Forests, May-June 1994 | Go to article overview

Tree Therapy


DeCoster, Lester, American Forests


It started with a hippopotamus named Rose. At 4 years old, Jane Sorenson fell in love with the diversity of life as exemplified by New York City where in the same day--on a whirlwind visit from Cleveland--she saw: Macy's department store, FAO Schwartz's mega-toy-store, what seemed like millions of very different people, and a hippopotamus named Rose at the Central Park Zoo.

Jane vowed to live in New York City someday but to also work with other living things like Rose. Now, several decades later, she has her wish. Jane Sorenson Lord: PhD, occupational therapist, doctor of naturopathy, tree farmer, and activist, shuttles back and forth from an office on 73rd Street--not far from Central Park--to a tree farm she shares with husband Gordon Lord in Westbrookville, New York---80 miles north of the city.

In 1991 and 1992 she combined her energy and skills to bring green growing things into the lives of schoolchildren in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn--a black and Hispanic ghetto. The project emerged when one of Lord's clients, the New York City school system, asked her to go from school to school to evaluate potential occupational-therapy candidates, then conduct the regular therapy twice a week at a special-education high school in Brooklyn. Clients for evaluation were plentiful. Lord regularly saw crack babies, fetal alcohol syndrome sufferers, abused children, and autistics.

She knew that gardening was an effective treatment in occupational therapy. She saw neglected vacant lots around the city and thought of what some trees would do, both for the land and for the people in the area.

After many meetings with principals, administrators, teachers, and facilities-management staff, Lord started a backyard-tree-farm program on vacant lots near the school. The program was educationally focused for elementary-school children and vocationally focused for the special education high-school students.

"I wanted them to learn about growing things," says Lord, "and in the process learn that they could set goals and accomplish them. I wanted older kids to see a glimmer of hope that if they could learn to grow plants in the concrete-like soil around their schools, they could turn that into possible jobs. …

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