The Evolution of Mind & Spirit Center’s Garden

Lois Crilly, Volunteer Gardener

It started in August 2018. My best friend, Sally Wood, was serving on the Board of Directors at the formerly-named Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center and asked me to meet the new Executive Director, Jim Hayes, to discuss whether I might be interested in maintaining the Center’s four garden beds. Jim was frustrated about how thistles had overtaken the garden and the battle of containment with weed mat. So began my journey as the Center’s volunteer gardener.

My first priority was to get rid of the thistles. There were two beds inside the circle drive, one with a field of ornamental grasses and the other with three ornamental trees and mulch.  I quickly saw that the real culprit was inside the ornamental grasses bed with lots of thistles blooming and casting seeds. I remember toting large garbage bags full of pulled thistles to the garbage bin week after week and it seemed endless.  But eventually, containment was achieved. 

Now that the thistles were on their way to being controlled, I needed to come up with a plan. It was clear that the beds originated with a vision and care and expense were taken to create the berms.  So how do I move forward with an expansion of that vision?  

With a blank slate on the north berm, it seemed that a good balance to the ornamental grass berm called for shrubs that would provide interest and take up space there. After meeting with Penny Heiss (former Operations Director), Terri Mork Speirs (former Director of Community Relations) and Jim, hydrangeas and elderberry were planted in what would become known as the “shrub berm” in the spring of 2019. 

I later met with Penny to draw a bead on the Center’s vision for the garden. Her direction was simple and clear, “You do whatever you want, Lois.  I trust you.”

Those words made me spring into action. A very small butterfly garden was planted outside the south waiting room windows with around five plantings that brought color through the summer into the fall and drew pollinator interest. Weeds were still the most effort but a fraction of the past. Once Penny saw the color, butterflies and bees, her direction expanded and asked that I “create as many blooms as you can”. 

In September 2019, I heard a presentation from the Blank Park Zoo about their Plant Grow Fly program to promote pollinators in home gardens, which protects plant food sources for the animals (us too). I also heard about the Children Overcoming Obstacles of Life (C.O.O.L.) program at the Center that shepherded interest in the Monarch butterfly life cycle.

That’s why all the milkweed! Talk about divine intervention. Learning about the C.O.O.L .program within weeks of hearing about the Plant Grow Fly program seemed serendipitous. The Plant Grow Fly program asks participants to register their gardens through their website using a list of plants that qualify for pollinators. Once I did that for my garden, I met with Penny to go over what we needed to do to create this pollinator environment at the Center. 

That fall, Sally, Penny and I dug up grasses at the edge of the front entryway to make room for pollinator flowers. In 2020, pollinator plants were added and we were able to register the Center’s garden with the Zoo and now the Plant Grow Fly sign is displayed by the original butterfly garden. 

In the ensuing years, more flowering shrubs have been added to the shrub berm, including Japanese tree peonies, Baptisia and Amsonia. This berm now sports a Japanese maple tree donated by Sally. All of these plantings are unconventional for commercial property but are intended to catch the visitor’s eye.   Allium bulbs have been added to the shrub berm and throughout the pollinator beds. Each year these spring blooms are eventually spray painted by staff to continue color for another couple of weeks. This is a trick I’ve learned from Master Gardeners and is quite unexpected by the passerby.  While the thistles have been eradicated and pollinators are visible throughout the beds, the gardens are ever-changing.

I hope this may inspire you to think about a pollinator garden at home. Thank you to Sally, Jim and Penny for this opportunity to conquer, create and share. Purpose realized. Happy Planting!

To learn what to and how to register your garden, please visit Blank Park Zoo Garden Registration.

2019 Butterfly Bed
2020 Pollinator Beds Begin
2020 Pollinator Beds Begin





Medicare Part B Recognition has been achieved!

After more than a decade of advocacy from various mental health organizations, licensed mental health counselors (LMHC) and licensed marriage and family therapists (LMFT) are now recognized as Medicare providers!

The U.S. legislature recently passed the Omnibus package which includes language from the Mental Health Access Improvement Act that expands coverage of LMHCs and LMFTs services under Medicare Part B. The act is scheduled to take effect in January 2024. We’ll provide more information as it becomes available.

Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Center

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this month, the Center would like to reiterate our ongoing commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the announcement of our diversity statement, adopted by our Board of Directors:

“The Mind and Spirit Counseling Center is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive community for our clients and employees. We recognize that diversity and inclusion of age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, religion and disabilities will enhance our ability to honor our core values of equity, respect, compassion, and creating accessibility to high-quality services for all.”

Beyond a formal statement, the Center also has an active Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee that was formed in the summer of 2020. Soon after the formation, trainings and other goals were set up to help staff, the Center and the community grow, learn and be more inclusive. The committee quickly broadened their goal to include other types of diversity in addition to race.

Doug Detrick, a Licensed Independent Social Worker at the Center, currently heads our DEI Committee. In his own words, he explains why DEI work is important and the action steps the committee has taken so far:

Since the DEI Committee was formed, the Committee and the Center have accomplished a lot, but the work is not finished. As a social worker, I feel naturally drawn to issues involving diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as social and economic justice. I have participated in various ways to promote them. I got into social work due to things I went through in my early life and how they profoundly affected my view on helping others. I just finished putting together a class on Moral Injury and it allowed me to, again, reflect on what I felt growing up as a mixed-race individual in a predominantly white, south side of Des Moines in the 1960s.

I cannot comment on what it was like to grow up in that environment as a person of color, as someone with a physical or mental disability, or as an LGBTQ+ individual as my features are Caucasian, Non-Hispanic. However, looking back, I remember feeling shame and fear about what if someone finds out about me or my family. I remember feeling fear of speaking out if I saw a person being mistreated because of color, disability, sexual orientation, or hearing a racial slur or joke and feeling angry at myself that I did not have the strength to stand up to them or it.

Looking back now, I can see that I suffered moral injury. I have worked hard on myself to heal this wound, but so many others have been grievously injured in this way or more severely with PTSD from everything they have endured throughout their lives.

Part of the work the DEI Committee has done is promoting the staff to read “My Grandmother’s Hands” by Resmaa Menakem, a book about healing racial trauma and healing our society. The book’s self-help exercises and group discussion were extremely therapeutic to me, and I am thankful that it was brought into my life.

I joined the Center at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020. When the group was being formed, I was just getting to know my co-workers through Zoom meetings. I felt a calling to participate in the group to do my part to promote diversity and equity as part of the Center’s mission and felt the caring and commitment from others to make it happen. As the group formed and solidified, we were able to come up with initiatives that we felt were impactful and continue to work in this direction.

Around this time Billie Wade, MS, a volunteer of the Center, started a book club to read and discuss significant books on equity and diversity that some of us participated in and benefited from the readings and discussions.

 During our early meetings we came up with the following initiatives on 9/21/2020:

  • Establish a book club and review the books and magazines offered within the Center’s waiting rooms.
  • Recognize Juneteenth
  • Evaluate our space to explore how we might be more hospitable to diverse cultures
  • Increase diversity at all levels: clients, board and staff
  • Improve how we obtain demographic data so that we can better understand the diversity of our clients.
  • Review handbooks and bylaws. Edit forms, policies and practices that impact DENI
  • Offer regular training for board and staff. Continue consultation with Nate Harris to inform our future curriculum for trainings
  • Establish a joint committee of board and staff to align objectives with strategy and time-specific improvements in order to embed positive ongoing change in our culture
  • Standing agenda items to reflect on how DENI was part of our conversation during meetings
  • Diminish geographic limitations of the Center’s Urbandale location
  • Make DENI part of current branding study
  • Participate in United Way 21-day challenge
  • Use the equity tool
  • Obtain further trainings from our accrediting agency, the Solihten Institute
  • Reserve time for staff to watch the “American Son” together and discuss their reactions
  • Promote staff to watch Therapy Wisdom:
  • Informational interview within our own networks and bring back the o group for discussion and growth
  • Invite Innovative Counseling to discuss each Center’s work
  • Include diversity discussion at June staff meeting

Many of the items listed above have been completed or are still a work in progress. I believe the DEI Committee has made positive strides to promote diversity and equity at the Center, but we still have a lot of work to do. The Center’s staff and Board of Directors continue to strive to achieve significant goals through the work of all the caring people involved. Our goal is to find funding to bring in speakers for the Center and the community, such as Resmaa Menakem, author of “My Grandmother’s Hands,” or other noted diversity and equity speakers. We promote and encourage staff, board members and members of the community to bring us ideas on how the Center can improve in areas surrounding diversity and equity.

    Experiencing Winter Blues? Understanding Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) with Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Psychiatrist

    Geoffrey Hills, Mind & Spirit Counseling Center
    Geoffrey Hills, DO

    In Johnny Nash’s song I Can See Clearly, the singer references that all his troubles and pain are gone and now he sees nothing but blue skies and sunshine. While this song is metaphorical, it is also rooted in science. Some people experience increased mental health issues during the fall and winter months specifically due to the lack of daylight and sun exposure. This is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The Center’s Dr. Geoffrey Hills, Psychiatrist, explains in greater detail and talks about treatment options.

    What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? What are symptoms, common complaints, etc.?

    Dr. Hills: “Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD) refers to an increase in depressive symptoms specifically during the fall and winter months. These can include sadness, fatigue, apathy, poor focus, sleep disruption and/or increased appetite. There can be a loss of motivation even for things a person normally enjoys and a need to sleep more. The cause of SAD may vary from individual to individual, though appears to be related to the decreased amount of daylight available in the winter months. This can affect the levels of message-carriers in the brain such as serotonin and melatonin. The effect of these message carriers on our circadian rhythm (i.e., our “internal clock”) may be what causes many of the symptoms.”

    Whom does SAD affect?

    Dr. Hills: “Not surprisingly, SAD is more common among people who live farther from the equator. Women and younger adults tend to be affected more. There may also be genetic factors or hormonal shifts that contribute to symptoms as well.”

    How can mental health clinicians treat clients who are affected by SAD? Are there potential side effects with the treatments?

    Light Therapy Lamp

    Dr. Hills: “Clients presenting with depressive symptoms during the winter months should of course be assessed as they would be throughout the year. Healthy habits including proper diet, consistent sleep, exercise, social engagement and time outdoors on sunny days will benefit almost everyone. Some medications can also be useful in treating SAD. However, to the extent that symptoms appear to be specific to seasonal changes, the use of a light therapy lamp is a good and safe option for treatment. These lamps are widely available and can be affordable for most households. The intensity of the lamp should be 10,000 lux. When used, it is placed about 1-2 feet away from the person and using it first thing in the morning is recommended for the best effect. The person need not be looking directly at the lamp, but just have it in their range of vision. Using a light therapy lamp is quite safe, though some people could experience a headache or eye strain with prolonged use. Other side effects such as increased irritability or sleep disruption can happen, though are very uncommon.”

    What are some common concerns or misconceptions about SAD?

    Dr. Hills: “The benefit of light therapy lamps is due to their effect on specific receptors in the eyes. While vitamin D may have some effect on SAD, skin exposure to light is not necessary for its treatment. Patients should not use tanning beds to treat SAD.”

    Any interesting statistics about SAD or anything else you’d like to add?

    Dr. Hills: “There are a lot of stressors that can present during the winter months. Adverse weather, difficulty traveling, school stress, increased isolation and the pressures of the holidays can affect us all. Attention to self-care and compassion for others during these times will always serve us well in managing our struggles.”

    Mind and Spirit Counseling Center has four light therapy lamps for Seasonal Affective Disorder available at the Center. They can be loaned out to clients who wish to see how it works before they buy one. A lamp can also be loaned out for a longer period of time to a household unable to afford it. If a client believes they’re experiencing symptoms of SAD, they should speak with their clinician about further assessment and treatment options.

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