TWU family makes community gardening welcoming and accessible for all people
“Opportunity Landing is not limited to people in wheelchairs. Opportunity Landing welcomes everyone.”
— Janet Kreiter, TWU Library staff, visionary of accessible community gardening
Janet Kreiter, a B.C. mother whose daughter is an incomplete quadriplegic, is pushing forward her vision of a creating an accessible community garden in Langley that is open to the public, thanks to the generous support of local businesses and land supplied by Trinity Western University.
Janet, who works in the library at Trinity Western is mother to Erin, TWU alumna and a PhD candidate who is wheelchair dependent.
Janet has often mused about owning a property, an open space where Erin could move freely around in her wheelchair.
If she had this property she would share it, she thought.
“(We would) use what we’ve learned to make it a really great place for more than just us,” she said. “My family laughed (thinking), it was just me dreaming again.”
This spring, what started as a simple dream is now becoming a reality.
Janet, along with her family and supporters, are currently in the process of building an accessible community garden – open to the public – on land freely loaned to them by TWU.
Erin's incredible story of resilience
Janet’s daughter Erin, and her incredible story of resilience, was the inspiration behind it all.
As a child, Erin couldn’t run and play like other children. Yet, she was brilliant. “Everything that God gave her, he put in her brain,” Janet said.
Erin struggled with multiple health challenges throughout her life, and was dealt a series of medical misdiagnoses. Despite her challenges, Erin graduated from Trinity Western University with distinction, and went on to the University of Alberta to study genetics. When laboratory substances made her sick, Erin switched fields to study epidemiology. Janet explains that, as a PhD candidate, Erin had worked to help cancer patients who were underserved by the mainstream healthcare system. The suffering and isolation of illness were experiences that Erin herself could relate to.
In 2012, Erin was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a condition related to muscular dystrophy. After collapsing at the Vancouver General Hospital that same year, Erin spent 360 days in hospital. When she finally returned home, she was on a ventilator, unable to walk, and needing 24-hour care. Erin’s father, Tim, retired from his career with the RCMP to become her full-time caregiver. Erin and her family currently live together in Langley, B.C. Erin’s mother and her sister Elizabeth work at the Langley campus of TWU.
Envisioning a fully accessible community space
Janet had long wanted to transfer the lessons that she and her family have learned in caring for Erin, to help make public amenities like community parks and playgrounds more accessible.
“We have learned that wheelchair access is not wheelchair access,” said Janet. “People do not understand what it means to be in a wheelchair.”
“People ignore you, walk in front of you. They think you’re invisible. They think because you have wheels instead of legs, you have no intellect.”
All these experiences fueled Janet’s desire to help other families in similar and other unique situations. “But it’s not just about things you can see,” she said. “Many people have invisible disabilities they deserve equal consideration. Neither can we ignore or forget our seniors, veterans and others who just can’t get down on the ground anymore.”
She named her idea Opportunity Landing. It would include a collection of public amenities to be enjoyed by all people but that will meet the specific needs of people with visible and invisible disabilities. Resources would include stand-up community gardening boxes and wheelchair-friendly playgrounds.
“Our project is called Opportunity Landing. It will be a place for building community, growing food, and outdoor play,” she said.
Janet continued, “Opportunity is the chance to do things. Landing is a place where people come. It’s a nautical term. It means a place of refuge, a place of safety, where people come to.”
When Janet first shared her idea with a friend, a career professional who uses a wheelchair, her friend’s response was overwhelmingly affirmative. This gave Janet courage to talk to others. Every person Janet approached seemed highly supportive. People told her that yes, absolutely, this is what was needed. From group home caregivers to the Township of Langley employees, the feedback Janet received was that there was nothing like this in her community, and that this kind of resource was long overdue.
Location for a new community garden at Trinity Western
In March 2021, Janet’s dream began to take flight, when, within 12 hours of her pitching the idea to Trinity Western’s leadership, she was loaned property on TWU’s campus to build the garden.
“The stand-up garden at TWU will be accessible to people who have difficulty bending over and working at ground level,” Janet said. “It will be helpful for many people to have that chance again (to do gardening).”
“Opportunity Landing is not limited to people in wheelchairs. Opportunity Landing welcomes everyone,” she said.
Opportunity Landing will feature up to 64 stand up gardening boxes. There will be places for people to sit in the shade and relax. “There is nothing like what we’re going to build, in the Lower Mainland,” Janet added. “It is TWU-supported, and the (university’s) President has allowed us use of the space.”
“We were thrilled to hear and to support Janet and her family in this endeavour. As a global Christian university, we are grateful to be a part of the Township of Langley, and we wish to do all that we can to support the flourishing of people who live in the area,” said TWU President Mark Husbands.
An accessible garden is just the beginning
In the future, Janet hopes to also build a universal playground. “No child should have to choose between what they can play on,” she said. “We will build a natural universal playground, where siblings can play together in the dirt at a stand up dirt table. There will be swings for wheelchair users, and playhouses where all children can play together.”
While registration will be available to everyone, early registration will be available to those who cannot use traditional community gardens. “We want to give preference to people who need this kind of space, who have never been able to use a garden,” said Janet.
Janet anticipates registration to start around mid-April, and gardening to open early May. Janet’s husband, Tim, is building the garden boxes with the help of volunteers. “Anyone with carpentry skills would be appreciated for the assembly line construction of the boxes,” said Tim.
Many of the supplies to build the garden are being donated by local businesses. Janet shares, “Tim and I have begun construction of the garden using wood and supplies we have purchased ourselves. People have been opening their arms and pockets to help us. We hope to complete the garden with the support and donations of the community.”
The location of the garden is at TWU’s north parking lot, behind the Northwest Building and soccer pitch.
The community garden at TWU will reamain for this season, until October 2021. Next year, Janet and her family hopes that Opportunity Landing can operate on its own property within the Langley Township.
For more information on this project, please visit Opportunitylanding.ca.
If anyone is interested in volunteering with Opportunity Landing, or in donating supplies — particularly, new or used cedar fence boards — please contact Janet at email@example.com.
See this story in the Langley Advance Times.
About Trinity Western University
Founded in 1962, Trinity Western University is Canada’s premier Christian liberal arts university dedicated to equipping students to establish meaningful connections between career, life, and the needs of the world. It is a fully accredited research institution offering liberal arts and sciences, as well as professional schools in business, nursing, education, human kinetics, graduate studies, and arts, media, and culture. It has five campuses and locations: Langley, Richmond-Lansdowne, Richmond-Minoru, Ottawa, and Bellingham, WA. TWU emphasizes academic excellence, research, and student engagement in a vital faith community committed to forming leaders to have a transformational impact on culture. Learn more at www.twu.ca or follow us on Twitter @TrinityWestern, on Facebook and LinkedIn.
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