HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — The Villa Garden at St. Joseph’s Villa in Henrico County is coming up on its 10th anniversary in October, continually working to grow the area as a therapeutic and educational space for the children and families the nonprofit serves.
Founded in 1834 by the Daughters of Charity, a religious order of women called to care for Richmond’s orphaned and impoverished children, St. Joseph’s Villa is the longest continuously operating children’s nonprofit in the United States. Since 2015, the organization has served 57 localities throughout Virginia, supporting more than 3,000 children and families each year.
The Villa Garden is one of more than 20 programs the nonprofit provides in order to support those facing homelessness, autism and developmental disabilities, mental illness, special education needs and other challenges, using a wraparound approach to therapy, care and education.
“This garden, actually, at one point, was basically clay and a sand volleyball court that wasn’t being utilized, and we had some construction going on on campus at the time,” Director of Career and Transition Services Matthew Kreydatus said. “We had this great vision with our advancement folks and our educational folks that say, ‘What can we do for this space to make it productive for the kids that they actually have a space to go and chill and relax and learn?'”
Kreydatus said that, with the assistance of volunteers and donors, the garden has transformed over the years into the space it is now. But work is continuously happening to expand and improve the Villa Garden.
Recently, Kreydatus said that a compost tumbler was installed, and on Friday, members of the 8News team helped construct and fill two new garden boxes and weed the so-called kiwi tunnel.
“We have roughly nine classes that come through here,” Kreydatus said. “Just seeing the kids put their hands in the dirt, playing with the plants, smelling the mint, picking up worms, all that kind of stuff really just makes you feel good about [how] these kids are learning not to be afraid of bugs, not to be afraid of nature.”
At its Henrico County campus, which has been standing for nearly a century, St. Joseph’s Villa provides education, mental health services, counseling, career and transition services and rapid re-housing.
“[The garden] combines both learning, therapy, it gets family involved, it gets the community involved, it supports growth, and I think that’s what makes the space so important to everybody,” Kreydatus said. “It’s cool to see them accomplish something, whether that’s that small, little microscopic planting the seed in the garden to growing an actual melon in the garden […] to actually walking across the stage.”
The employees with whom 8News worked at St. Joseph’s Villa on Friday said that they are always looking for volunteers to help with work on campus and share the mission of the nonprofit with the greater community. More information about the organization can be found on its website.