Pictured Above (left to right): John Capobianco, Senior Vice President, Northwest Region; Lynn Seiser; Elizabeth Ann Whalen, MD, Radiation Oncology at CHH; BJ Taylor, Radiation Oncology at Charlotte Hungerford; Debbie Bender, Senior Philanthropy Officer, Charlotte Hungerford; Carol Dauphinais of Mack and Twine Farms; Jessica Stewart; Susan Smith, Executive Director of the Cancer Care Fund of the Litchfield Hills; and Jeff Geddes.

Like many patients receiving cancer treatment at the hospital, Jessica Stewart couldn’t wait to just go home.

“I spent a few months going back and forth to Charlotte Hungerford Hospital for treatments and I couldn’t get out of the building fast enough,” shares Stewart, a Fit Together health and wellness coordinator and five-year breast cancer survivor. “Patients just want to go in, get their care, and be done with it. But on my journey, I met so many amazing, kind-hearted people from CHH and my community—and I really wanted to give back.”

As she continued through her treatments, Stewart began distributing comfort bags to Charlotte Hungerford cancer patients to “help them feel loved.” For Stewart, it was a way to find peace and purpose in her therapy process. Then, in October 2022, she organized the 1st Annual Charlotte Hungerford Hospital’s Pink Rose Fund Chili Cook-Off, a community event that raised over $6,000 to support the breast cancer program and its patients.

Throughout her volunteerism, Stewart kept thinking she wanted to create something beautiful and sustainable.

“I love gardening and I love being able to watch flowers and things grow,” shares Stewart. “I thought it would be great to give people hope and combine my passions of health, wellness, and education by creating a Healing Garden located outside of the hospital’s Radiation Therapy Center on Kennedy Drive. This would give patients something beautiful to enjoy as they enter and leave the building.”

Thanks to in-kind donations of plants and soil from local businesses, farms, and community members; including Jeff Geddes of Torrington Savings Bank, Susan Smith of the Cancer Care Fund of the Litchfield Hills, and Carol Dauphinais of Mack and Twine Farms; as well as the efforts of several gardening volunteers from inside and outside of the hospital—Stewart’s vision was realized in May 2023 as Charlotte Hungerford Hospital celebrated its new Healing Garden with everyone who made it possible.

“We hope that when patients leave the facility they will not only smell and enjoy the flowers, but they will take some veggies home with them,” reveals Stewart.  “We are what we eat—many people don’t realize how important it is to fuel our bodies well. We are also providing patients with recipes based on what is growing in the garden.”

“The response to our new Healing Garden has been extremely positive,” shares John Capobianco, Senior Vice President, Northwest Region, Hartford HealthCare. “It’s always inspiring when former patients continue their relationship with our hospital through volunteerism and community fundraising. This project is particularly special as Jessica leveraged her health and wellness expertise to help our patients eat healthy—which is very critical in the fight against cancer.”

Outside of tending to the Healing Garden, Stewart hosts the Annual Pink Rose Fund Chili Cook-Off. In 2023, Jess originally set a goal of raising $10,000, with all proceeds benefiting the Charlotte Hungerford Hospital Pink Rose Fund and the cancer patients the fund supports. She substantially surpassed her goal by raising an amazing $16,000.

“I’ve made peace with many things since I had cancer, and these projects were a big part of my healing process,” shares Stewart. “I’m very happy that I was able to give back to Charlotte Hungerford.”

Stewart even found a special quote for a garden sign that reads, “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow,” and this Healing Garden is a wonderful example of our community coming together to give our patients and their loved ones courage and hope for a new day.

If you, your business, or your organization is interested in providing philanthropic support to Charlotte Hungerford Hospital through a donation, volunteerism, or special event—please contact Debbie Bender, Senior Philanthropy Officer at Deborah.Bender2@hhchealth.org.