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How the Pandemic Changed Our Approach

What was the most searched-for phrase on Google in 2021? It was "how to heal."

In 2021 America seemed to acknowledge en masse that trauma has entered the national scene.[1] Americans are now eight times more likely to be in some form of mental distress than before the pandemic.[2] Who hasn’t felt this truth? Our board members all lost someone to COVID, including a founding board member who also passed on from it. One advisor lost four family members in six months. Another brought her sister, an ICU nurse, to a mental health residential facility due to overwork and secondary trauma. It’s been a truly difficult time for all.

Frontline workers, valuable employees supporting both America’s public health and economy, have been hit hardest. Their jobs are staffed largely by people of color in most urban and some rural areas. Service professionals and their families are getting sick after being exposed at work and school, bringing it home, while masked, to elders and children. COVID deaths have not slowed in many communities,[3] causing a historically monumental trend in mental distress.

Essential workers, plagued by the mental health effects of fatigue, are least likely to afford enough time off for respite, much less vacation. In October, the research journal Molecular Psychiatry found that 23% of Americans are now experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The researchers aired strong recommendations for early intervention and long-term support.[4]

Respite and daily self-managed mental health are critical for preventing crisis points beyond repair, and people now seem to be seeking solutions. A Cleveland Clinic survey found that 82% of America now feels that mental health is just as important as physical health (up from 68% in 2018.)[5]

To deliver services that help, we’re leaning into our original calling: bring people into nature to minimize physical health effects of traumatic stress—improving quality of life for those of humble means, relieving system costs of healthcare, and reestablishing resiliency for more members of the public.

We appreciate everyone who has helped us get this far.

With sincere dedication,


Joy Ellsworth, Board President, Clement Waters Retreat


offering stewardship to those who also deserve the role

Continued KC Restoration Projects – Because the Gregory Ridge Neighborhood Association has been vital to our ability to conduct activities at our first land restoration project, our four-acre food forest trail project was renamed in 2021: The Retreat at Gregory Ridge. The story leading to the rename was a case-study teaching us a hard lesson: adult citizens and population groups who are experiencing need prefer collaborative community organizing to social work or handouts.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Health Forward Foundation, facilitated through Heartland Conservation Alliance, we conducted the 2020 Loving Our Lots outreach program that explored the potential of community-led vacant lot restoration for public health. Our primary objective was to discover community generated and accepted solutions that improve public health by mitigating crime-perpetuating dumping, and by localizing public leisure in nature-spaces.

First, a virtual panelist roundtable event reached 1,200 viewers wanting to improve their neighborhoods. Then, roughly thirty caring East KC residents attended four follow-up sessions to discuss their restoration preferences. Finally, we conducted four design charrette sessions with two neighborhood associations, after which the vacant lot designs were placed in their hands, along with the onus of project control.

External to the goals of the grant, we learned that if we want truly effective solutions enacted by people who feel distress daily, the following factors must be present in every engagement:

  1. Mutual dignity and humbleness maintained at all times during convened collaboration.

  2. Autonomous community control of solution design and implementation, with reporting and bookkeeping support provided only when deemed necessary by all collaborators.

  3. Openness to two-way compassionate actions shared while pursuing mutual benefit (with the organization as a collaborator, not a benefactor.)

Leaders of East Kansas City neighborhoods responded well to this method of encouragement and support for effective stewardship relationships with vacant neighborhood nature-spaces.


applying lessons from 2020 to 2021

The Retreat at Gregory Ridge – Annually, the first Saturday of April is Project Blue River Rescue at Lakeside Nature Center. This year, the project brought over 40 volunteers to our forest. In October, fifteen parishioners from three church congregations across the metro came to plant trees with ten local neighborhood residents. With the assistance of Gregory Ridge Neighborhood Association President Carl Stafford, a rendering of forest renovation goals (below), was commissioned from artist Jonathan Lyman, providing a long-term vision for the project.

Neighbor-Grown Food Network – In 2021, fifteen household kitchen gardeners again grew food and spices to feed their families, using the nature-mimicking bio-intensive companion planting method we shared with them in 2019. Pandemic precautions made the original delivery model obsolete, but families report that they are still sharing the method and seeds within their social circles. At the Shiloh Learning Center Demonstration Garden, school volunteers weeded around self-propagated food plants seeded by the 2020 growing season’s first-generation plants. Families harvested produce at their leisure. Nature Immersion Therapy – In 2021, drawing from a Nature Therapy Guide certification course being taken by one of our volunteer staff members, we publicized nature-focused mental health self-help aides through social media posts that reached over 7,000 people on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (e.g. the square images throughout this report). Two community in-person nature therapy sessions were led in the Retreat at Gregory Ridge during October. The first advertised in-person pilot sessions in November served eight people. Sessions will re-open in March, if public health guidelines allow.

2021 Study: Understanding another face of American hardship – For Joy Ellsworth, 2021 was a year of multi-day visits to Bodwéwadmi, Laḱoťa and Daḱoťa communities, and conversations with residents. Joy attended a 417-mile memorial horse ride conducted by a Laḱoťa man in her professional network to honor his late wife’s life.

Joy’s previous studies introduced her to the poverty-surviving shared wisdoms lived by residents of both the southeastern Missouri Ozarks and of the East Kansas City area. Participating in the ride helped us to learn another American perspective.

Joy's experience validated two aspects of the organization’s work:

  1. Focusing on community-generated wisdoms is a uniting and healing action, especially for people experiencing hardship.

  2. Indigenous smallholder lifestyles and land management practices are worthy of mainstream adoption and respect, due to their inherent environmental stewardship.


a haven of clear streams, fresh food and solace

A Safe Retreat Option – As of December 1st, 2021, Clement Waters Retreat is the caretaker organization for a mountaintop retreat, chapel and conference hall near the delightfully diverse arts community of Eureka Springs, Arkansas. In November 2019, an Episcopal priest revealed the idea of continuing his existing respite-providing programs hosted there. The prospect of program acquisition required careful deliberation between real-estate lawyers and our board of directors, and on-site training with the priest.

The seven-acre project resonated most with our board members of color, who suggested adding frontline workers to the mix of intended guests. People with more darkly pigmented skin find they’re risking their own safety when traveling in rural Missouri, but there is a route to Eureka Springs not requiring Missouri travel.

Missouri is host to 19 localized and 5 state-wide hate groups. In 2017, when the Missouri legislature voted to remove punishments for discrimination from the Missouri Human Rights Act, the NAACP issued a travel advisory for people of color in the state of Missouri, which is still in effect.

To get to the retreat, Kansas Citians in Missouri can take US Highway 69 South through Kansas and Oklahoma, hopping the Arkansas state line at Bentonville. The dedicated peaceful space makes the prospect of respite in nature available to everyone.

Clement Waters Retreat board and staff members are especially interested in offering nature immersion therapy near the renowned clear streams of the area—the very practice that caused measurable stress relief and physical healing for the founders.


creating projects that fit community needs

Improved consistent marketing work in 2021 increased the credibility of Clement Waters Retreat in the fields of nutrition and mental health, and it earned some strategic additions to the board. Professionally influential and capable new board members promise to bring efficacy in a post-pandemic era. Our shared leadership model invites many co-leaders to express passion for the mission through project adoption. Below are new members for 2021 and their adopted projects.

The board welcomes Staroyce Nealy, Director of Global One Urban Farming in KCMO’s Vineyard Neighborhood. Our organization has had a part-admirer, part-consultant role in her work since 2018. She appeared as an expert panelist in Clement Waters’ Loving Our Lots virtual event, and has taught many Kansas City students about plant propagation and care.

Project: Homegrown Easy – Staroyce leads the project subcommittee producing this almanac/ cookbook project. The project pairs recipes of choice-variety heirloom fruits, vegetables and herbs with seed vendor information, harvest instructions, and garden advice. The garden planning feature helps gardeners avoid high-cost inputs like extra water or fertilizer.

The board welcomes Michael Nobo, MSW, LSCSW, CIMHP, co-owner of Food Mood Therapists. Michael originally assisted as an advisor in business planning for Clement Waters’ launch of a Nature Immersion Therapy program that need not be dependent upon service site ownership.

Project: Learning How to Float – Michael leads the project subcommittee producing this self-help video series, to be released on the Nature’s Healing Spaces channel on YouTube. The series identifies traumatic stress causes and symptoms, suggests tips to caretakers of PTSD sufferers, and instructs viewers on exactly how anyone can take time in nature for self-coping of stress-related mental and physical illnesses.


January through December 2021


of the people who make this effort move forward


Emily Bond Amy Brown The Curry Family Foundation The Episcopal Diocese of W. Missouri Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation Health Forward Foundation Heartland Conservation Alliance Mary McCravy-Stewart Katherine Ritcheske Stephen and Melissa Rock Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church Peter G and Elizabeth Torosian Foundation Jim and Judy Vokac John and Debby Walker


Sami Aaron Apple of His Eye Ministry Andrea Bledsoe Margaret E. Clark Kelly Daniels Iyabo Dedmon Jamie Dodrill Amanda Doering Marie Ellsworth Leon Franklin Tim and Marilyn Hauter Stacy Heatherly Alicia Horner Christina Hoxie Mary Hrabak Rev. Mtr. Anne Hutcherson Jean Kiene Nancy Kost Rev. Fr. Michael Kyle and Rev. Mtr. Anne Kyle Sara Lamprise MiWha Lee Darlis Malindi Bill Meeker Eric Mozingo David Negrau Michael Nobo Julia O’Donnell Rev. Mtr. Melissa Roberts-George Shindo Institute Rev. Fr. John Spicer and Ann Spicer Rev. Fr. Galen Snodgrass Carl Stafford Connie Stewart Amy Thomas Carolyn Tragasz Staroyce Washington-Nealy Shari L. Wilson Chief Izzy “Inúi Wiyópila” Zephier of the Iháŋktoŋwaŋ Tribe of the Wičíyela Daḱoťa Tom “Waŋbli Luza” Zeigler of the Kul Wičaša Clan of the Šicaŋgu Laḱoťa (and his family) Many thanks to our anonymous donors.

Special thanks to Mary and Allan Severin (may they rest in peace), Debbie Ellsworth, Luke Ellsworth, Charles and Denise Shanks, Carl Stafford, Iscela Huntington, Connie Stewart, and Jim Vokac

Thank you for seeking to do good.
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