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From the graduation files: Eiler’s passion for ‘work of humanity’ leads to a haven for those in need

Lipscomb students are making an impact on their community through volunteer work and classroom assignments.

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Volunteers holding master plan for The Village and garden.

Cecelie Eiler brought her dream for a community garden at The Village at Glencliff to life.

When Cecelie Eiler began her college journey at Highland Community College in Freeport, Illinois in 2017 she had no idea what she wanted to do in life or what she wanted to become. 

While taking general education courses she fell in love with the excitement of earth sciences as two of her professors “exuded pure joy” while talking about the earth in a way she had never witnessed before. 

“Because of those two professors, I made a promise to myself to learn as much as I could about our environment and to treat it in such a way that would serve the greater good,” recalls Eiler. “It seemed only natural to me to pursue a degree in environmental and sustainability science, and I would not be who I am today if it wasn’t for that life-changing decision.”

She transferred to Lipscomb University her junior year and chose to major in environmental and sustainability sciences housed in the College of Leadership & Public Service. On Saturday, May 8, she graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree. 

“Majoring in environmental and sustainability sciences has allowed me to see the Earth from a broader, holistic perspective,” she explains. “Because of this major, coupled with my minor in law, justice and society, I now have a greater understanding of what it means for me to be a human on this Earth, and I am able to behave and act from a place of interconnected humanity and justice. This program has led me to what I am now most passionate about: people.” 

Cecelie Eiler

Cecelie Eiler

Eiler has already begun to make an impact on the Nashville community through her ESS capstone project — developing a community garden at The Village at Glencliff.

The Village at Glencliff is located on the campus of Glencliff United Methodist Church in Nashville. It consists of 22 micro homes and its mission is to provide a hospitable medical respite and a bridge housing community for medically vulnerable people experiencing homelessness. Eiler was introduced to the community in the fall of 2019 when Emily Stutzman, assistant professor of sustainable practice and director of the environmental and sustainability studies program, took a class she was enrolled in — Practices of Sustainable Living — to visit the campus. They met with Rev. Ingrid McIntyre, founder and executive director of The Village at Glencliff.

“When I heard Reverend Ingrid McIntyre speak about the mission of The Village, I knew I needed to become involved with the organization. I spoke with Reverend McIntyre in the spring of 2020 about possible internship opportunities, and that is when she first mentioned the idea of establishing a community garden for the residents of The Village,” she says. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘there is absolutely no way I could possibly take on a project as vast as this,’ and I dismissed it altogether.”

That is until July 2020 when Stutzman suggested that Eiler begin thinking about a topic for her senior capstone project. That was just the nudge Eiler says she needed and decided to make establishing a community garden the focus of her senior project. 

She emailed McIntyre, told her she was going to move forward with the garden and was soon connected with Will Compton, a Master of Divinity candidate at Vanderbilt University who was working on a service component of his degree program at The Village at Glencliff. By extension he was assigned to the community garden project by McIntyre, and Eiler and Compton have been working as partners on the project since August 2020. 

The Haven conceptual layout

Conceptual layout of The Haven

The pair established a master plan in their minds of what they wanted to include in the garden. McIntyre connected them with Will Hargrove at Farmer Morgan, who helped develop a conceptual layout plan, a master plan and a planting plan created. Compton established a partnership for the garden with Nashville Foodscapes, which has been monumental in the long term establishment of the garden. 
 
“After we solidified these two partnerships, Farmer Morgan and Nashville Foodscapes, Will (Compton) and I decided it was time to give the garden a name. Since the beginning of the planning process, Will and I had used the word 'haven' as a descriptor for the garden, and when it came time to give it a name it only felt natural to name it The Haven,” says Eiler.
 
The Haven will feature ADA accessible raised beds (for residents), an herb garden, a rain garden, raised beds (for church members, community members, and residents), communal spaces, and a remembrance garden. The Haven will have greenery ranging from flowering plants to food producing plants. The goal of The Haven is to provide a space for residents to rest, reflect, and reap the benefits (physical, emotional, spiritual) of being one with the Earth. Our hope is that The Haven becomes not only a community garden, but also a resting place and a site of healing for our most vulnerable friends, explains Eiler. 
 
“Cecelie and the team working on The Haven have created a sustainable community garden that will far outlast their project timeline,” says McIntyre. “It will provide a space at The Village at Glencliff that sustains not only the residents here, but also helps create community through their outreach efforts in the neighborhood. Its very presence is a sign of resistance, resilience, and restoration.” 

“In the two years that Cecelie has been a Lipscomb student, she quickly transformed an academic interest in community gardens into a relationship with The Village at Glencliff,” adds Stuzmann. “She's worked collaboratively over the last year to bring others into a shared goal of the creation of a nourishing garden.”
 
The project has not only met a course requirement, it has been a labor of love.

The Haven logo

“I am passionate about this work because it is the work of humanity. The opportunity to coordinate a safe space, a haven, for residents who are experiencing homelessness, has allowed me to serve in ways that go beyond my physical being,” admits Eiler. “This project is so beautiful because it’s founded in the healing power of nature, while it simultaneously provides a physical benefit to those who will reap the harvest and to the greater ecology of the space. My biggest dream is to work in some capacity that directly impacts others, and this work does exactly that.”
 
Because Eiler and Compton are both moving on academically, they have spent the last few months establishing volunteer groups within The Haven that will sustain the work of the garden after they graduate. They established two main groups — the design team and the community garden coordinator committee. Eiler says the design team will work with Marie Campbell of Nashville Foodscapes to continue dreaming up a plan for the space of the garden, while the community garden coordinator committee will act on those plans, implement them and maintain the long term success of the garden. The Village at Glencliff recently hired a Programs Manager, Zoey Caldwell, who will take The Haven under her wing as a program of The Village. 
 
“While I am sad to let The Haven go, I am so grateful to have had this opportunity. While working with Reverend McIntyre, Will, Will Hargrove, Marie and so many others, I have learned more than I could have possibly imagined I would have going into this project,” says Eiler. “What a gift this has been. I am thrilled to watch the garden grow as the months go on.”
 
“I also want to take a moment to say, thank you,” she continues. “Working on the margins is hard, much harder than I know now, though I am sure I will learn in time. The story of this garden is a story about justice, love, compassion, and growth. Oftentimes we get distracted by the brightness of shiny new  projects, but I think it's important for us to look beneath that. I think it's important to dig in the dirt, get our hands dirty, and pay attention to those who rarely get looked in the eye. If we are going to speak about walking as Jesus walked, then I think we ought to start here.”
 
Eiler will be able to keep a watchful eye on The Haven post graduation, however, as she has accepted the position of administrative data analyst at The Village at Glencliff.
 
Learn more about Lipscomb’s environmental and sustainability sciences program