As ChildSafe continues to celebrate its new $26.5 million campus, the nonprofit invited renowned author Richard Louv to speak at a Monday luncheon on the importance of green spaces to children’s physical and emotional health as they heal from trauma.
Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and co-founder of the Children & Nature Network, spoke to a crowd at ChildSafe’s Salado Creek campus about how San Antonio can “define what it means to be a nature-rich city.”
“The work being done in San Antonio is taking the importance of nature far beyond just a conversation, far beyond sermons or books, and you can see it in San Antonio,” Louv said, referring to the new campus. “There are so few places like this that the feeling I get [being here] is a little overwhelming.”
Louv directly links the lack of nature in the lives of children today – “nature-deficit disorder,” he calls it – to some of the nation’s most disturbing childhood trends, including rising rates of obesity and depression.
He told members of the media that ChildSafe’s new campus, nestled on a sprawling 36-acre plot off Interstate 10 and East Houston Street just east of downtown, will help children heal from trauma because it has greenway trails that connect to the organization’s own green spaces, including rooftop gardens and a large courtyard.
“Just including the option of looking out the window and seeing trees, or having some kind of nature in the building, can have a healing quality,” Louv said. “In hospitals there are fewer pain meds being used and people get well faster when there is nature around, and this is particularly true for kids.”
ChildSafe’s President and CEO Kim Abernethy said design firm Overland Partners was selected because it has specific experience in designing buildings that incorporate nature, and the nonprofit wanted every area of the new building to focus both on healing for children and families. Abernethy said it’s good for the organization’s employees, too.
“Doing this kind of work is very difficult, and this building was designed just as much to help the people who work here as it was to help [those we serve],” Abernethy said. “Throughout the building we have lots of windows, nature throughout, and from any point in the building you can be outside within a minute.”
Fifteen years ago, when he first started researching the impact of nature on kids who experience trauma, there were about 60 scientific research papers focusing on people’s connection to the natural world and its impact on their physical and mental well-being, Louv told the crowd. Now, his Children & Nature Network – which compiles and shares research that promotes connecting children to natural spaces – receives around 20 submissions per month from researchers looking into nature’s positive effects on a person.
“We now know without a doubt that nature helps kids grow physically, become resilient emotionally, and San Antonio is doing a lot of great things to promote that view,” Louv said, noting Texas “is one of the leading states in promoting children in nature.”
Louv expanded on how research shows that “vitamin N” (for nature) has helped traumatized children because it promotes positive brain stimulation. Going into more institutionalized spaces for assistance after experiencing trauma is typically not soothing or inviting, he said.
“You need to have people walk into a building that is filled with life – not only human life but with nature as well. It has a profound impact on the developing mind, specifically in times of trauma,” Louv said.
The 43,000 square feet of green space at ChildSafe and the greenway trails on 21 acres it donated to the City are open to the public, Abernethy said. “We want people to feel welcome when they come to our facilities, and we put money toward making that happen, she said.
“When people ask, ‘Why are you spending so much money incorporating nature in [and around this facility?’ I say, ‘Who else would we spend that money on? Who else is more important than the children we serve?” Abernethy said.