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Under the Umbrella of Compassion: How Plants for Patients Is Helping Women Heal

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There is nothing particularly extraordinary about pottery. It's made of malleable dirt, mixed with water, and heated until hard. Across all lands and cultures, humans have used it for centuries. Yet it's the compassion and care with which it's created, and the symbolism we prescribe, that creates meaning and makes it truly special.

Director of Operations at Plants for Patients (P4P) in Fargo, Monica Gelinske understands the calming nature of pottery more than most. For the past three years, the nonprofit organization has provided comfort through handcrafted pottery and plants to women as a symbolic gesture of comfort.

Plants for Patients Begins

In 2012, Gelinske, exhausted from working odd jobs around the Fargo area, felt the need to do something more creatively fulfilling. She started a small business called Must Love Beads which focuses on creating ornately designed pieces of jewelry. Shortly after starting the business, she met Megan Roberts. Roberts, at the time, was in the midst of finishing her ceramics major at North Dakota State University. When the two met, Roberts invited Gelinske to donate one of her pieces to a fundraiser she was involved in. The collaboration was a success and the two became close friends.

A handmade pot
A handmade pot

Roberts continued her pottery project by delivering handmade pots to the Red River Women's Clinic (RRWC). Filled with freshly planted succulents, these handcrafted pots signified solidarity with the patients of RRWC. When transferring the plants, Gelinske noticed they weren’t being rooted in soil well enough and took the responsibility on herself.

“I started thinking I could root them at home and from there I was propagating plants at my house,” says Gelinske. “When their (P4P) plant coordinator decided that she wanted to move out of town, Meg asked if I wanted to do that and I did.”

Gelinske became the plant coordinator and her house was soon filled with an abundance of pots and plants from artists and volunteers looking to lend helping hands.

“As the plant coordinator I was planting them and taking them to the clinic myself and I did that for a while,” says Gelinske. “Then once Meg took off for a walkabout in Hawaii, Plants for Patients was looking for some leadership.”

When Roberts slipped away to Hawaii, Monica and a few volunteers got together and brainstormed new directions for Plants For Patients. Local artist Amber Parsons suggested a pottery class for the community.

“She (Amber Parsons) came up with the idea to have this class where people could pay ‘x’ amount of money, learn how to make clay pots, take some for themselves, but also donate those items to P4P which was really cool,” says Gelinske.

The classes have been a great success and have increased the visibility of Plants for Patients and volunteer engagement. The support they have subsequently achieved allowed Gelinske to organize more events such as their participation in the Red River Market, which has helped to increase community awareness.

A screenshot from a pottery making tutorial video P4P released in 2016
A screenshot from a pottery making tutorial video P4P released in 2016

In 2017, Gelinske became the Director of Operations.

“We’ve really taken big strides. We went from this team of two, with outside volunteers, to a team of 30 with outside volunteers,” says Gelinske. “So it’s really grown. On a personal level, I feel like I’ve grown the most the last four or five years with all the responsibilities I’ve handled.”

The Opposition Against Plants for Patients

Plants for Patients' association with the RRWC, a local abortion provider, is controversial. The organization chooses to stay out of the politics of abortion and instead offers an olive branch— they are operating under an "umbrella of compassion," as Gelinske says.

“Under this ‘Pro-Compassion’ umbrella, we like to initiate the healing process through services like Eco-therapy, art and community,” says Gelinske. “[Through the clay class] the community is able to partake in this pro-compassion-love your neighbor-no judgement kind of lifestyle that we really believe in.”

Despite the presence of protesters outside the clinic being uncomfortable, and local religious groups’ diatribes, Gelinske chooses to remain positive. She argues that, by and large, the support they receive far outweighs any negativity.

Catholic protesters blocking the entrance into the Red River Women's Clinic. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Annick Ross.
Catholic protesters blocking the entrance into the Red River Women's Clinic. Photo courtesy of Caitlin Annick Ross.

“We are neither pro-life or pro-choice which is why we say we are under this umbrella of Pro-Compassion,” says Gelinske. “We have people that support us that are pro-life. You wouldn’t think that we would but we are just an organization that is trying to promote love instead of judgement.”

The support they’ve received throughout the years has been largely through volunteer work. According to Gelinske, since July 2018 volunteers have logged an astonishing 572 hours.

A volunteer planting a succulent at a recent community event
A volunteer planting a succulent at a recent community event

“The biggest support we receive is from the community. The (volunteer) hours alone are staggering,” says Gelinske. “As a nonprofit, there’s no money to be paying these people but they still help because they want to.”

Every year, Plants for Patients organizes a “Pro-Throw”. A Pro Throw is an annual event where artists who throw on the wheel, come together for a few hours and throw hundreds of pots to be used for the clinic and for sale throughout the year. During the past five years, the event has gained support from the downtown community and artists. Sometimes, the support can be overwhelming but in Monica’s eyes, that’s a good problem to have.

Plants for Patient’s Future Vision

With its success, Gelinske sees a path to continue growing P4P. Her ambitions are directly tied to her no-nonsense attitude in getting things done. During my interview with her, it was the first thing I noticed. Monica carries the kind of intensity you’d expect from a world leader. She likes to get things done.

“I’m not so much an idea person as a doer, I make it happen. And I think that’s where my passion lies because it’s not just P4P; I’ve done it for my other jobs too,” says Gelinske. “I struggle with watching other people struggle.”

Plants gathered up at the fifth year celebration ceremony
Plants gathered up at the fifth year celebration ceremony

As Plants for Patients grows, so do the aspirations. Gelinske hopes to one day expand the organization beyond Fargo. Because of the positive impacts she has seen in this area, she knows women in other cities can benefit from the same compassion.

“A lofty goal is to finish our handbook and hand it off to someone in Minneapolis either through Planned Parenthood or a private clinic and give them a road map to how we did it and it would break down everything they would need in order to start their own P4P,” says Gelinske.

Until then, however, Plants for Patients will keep their focus on this grassroots operation and continue helping women heal, if they want it. Because the symbol of a thriving plant, planted with compassion in a handmade piece of pottery, is simple enough to get the sentiment across: You are not alone.

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