PAOLA — The Paola Community Garden has long been a place where local residents can not only enjoy nature and grow fresh produce, but also embrace some peace and quiet away from the troubles of everyday life.
Now, thanks to the work of 16-year-old Boy Scout Tanner Wilson of Troop 284, nature lovers will have a comfortable place to sit as they take in the beauty of the butterfly garden located on the grounds of the Paola Community Garden along Industrial Park Drive.
The recent installation of three wooden benches at the garden served as Tanner’s Eagle Scout project, but they have extra special meaning for him and his family.
The benches pay tribute to his stepsister Regan Johnson, who tragically took her own life in December 2017 when she was a 16-year-old junior at Paola High School. Her death led to the creation of the Shifting Gears for Regan suicide prevention organization.
The new wooden benches face a new tree in the butterfly garden that was planted in Regan’s honor. Helping Tanner with the installation of the benches, tree planting and cleanup of the garden were some of his fellow Scouts and family members, including his father Jeremy Wilson and stepmother BJ Thomas-Wilson.
Jeremy and BJ are both Paola High School graduates.
BJ said the family members do a spring cleanup day each April at the garden to celebrate Regan’s birthday. This year was extra special because Regan would have turned 20 on April 26.
BJ said the benches are the perfect addition to the garden.
“The benches drive home our message of the garden being a place you can come and connect with nature and find peace when you are struggling,” BJ said. “The creation of the butterfly garden is what helped me survive losing Regan. I was sad, angry, broken — I wasn’t sure I was going to survive. Working in the garden and creating the butterfly garden brought me a sense of calm. I found strength in weed pulling. That garden brought life and beauty to something that was forgotten and was a way to turn such a tragedy into something people could look at and remember Regan for the gift that she was. It gave me a purpose and helped me find peace. Being able to create a space like that for our community made me think that if it could help me heal then maybe other people could heal there too. Now with the benches, it just makes it even more inviting.”
The family members soon will be honoring Regan’s memory once again during the third annual Shifting Gears for Regan passport cruise charity event.
The fundraiser will take place Saturday, June 19, and participants can purchase a passport and cruise the countryside in any type of transportation.
Check-in opens at 10 a.m. and motors will start running at 11 a.m. Kickoff spots include the Paola Community Garden and Sweet Streams Lavender Farm in Bucyrus.
Passports cost $30 for one or $50 for two, and children under 16 are free.
Stops include specialty farms, wineries, restaurants and more, and each stop will feature drawings, drinks and snacks, games and activities, and suicide prevention and awareness information. Each passport stamp earns an entry into grand prize drawings.
Proceeds from the event will go to Shifting Gears, which funds and develops suicide awareness and prevention programs in area schools and communities.
For more information, visit shiftinggears2021.eventbrite.com.