Growing Into Who You Are

Our next #GiveToGrow #SummerStorySeries features Oliver Cowan, a participant and volunteer at Marpole Neighbourhood House who has found an incredible sense of community and support through a group known as the Gathering Gardeners. Through the physical act of harvesting crops, Oliver has forged important relationships with their neighbours in the Marpole community, all while going through a period of personal growth.

For Oliver, finding community was not always easy. Relocating numerous times throughout their childhood made it challenging to develop a sense of connection and belonging, especially as someone who is autistic and lives with anxiety. After settling in Vancouver, Oliver continued to find themself in a state of flux; they spent two years homeless and five additional years precariously housed. It was not until they visited Marpole Neighbourhood House that Oliver truly felt at home in their community.

One day, while walking by Marpole Neighbourhood House, Oliver noticed a sign for a new collective called the Gathering Gardeners. As a farmer and avid plant lover, Oliver was immediately intrigued. They joined the group during its early beginnings and have been a member ever since. The mission of the Gathering Gardeners is to connect people who are passionate about growing things. Its members share their knowledge and skills with each other – harvesting their yields, cooking, and sharing meals together. The diversity of its members has greatly enriched Oliver’s experience. Through interactions with the other members, Oliver has been fortunate enough to learn the names of plants in a multitude of languages, pick up new cooking skills and flavour profiles, and hear stories of cooking and growing from other members’ homelands. Thanks to the Gathering Gardeners, Oliver has formed strong relationships, noting that “it’s hard not to make friends when you’re around a table full of good food.”

The connection that has been cultivated amongst the Gathering Gardeners transcends the members’ common interest in horticulture; friendship and support are integral to the group and Marpole Neighbourhood House at large. When Oliver broke their arm, others were quick to offer help, assisting with grocery shopping and cooking. Paying the favour forward, Oliver has helped others take transit to appointments and assemble shelves – and has even shaved some heads! The give-and-take nature of this reciprocal support network ensures that everyone is looked after, particularly during their most vulnerable moments. Asking for help is not seen as a burden – it is encouraged.

On a more personal note, Oliver – who is non-binary – started their hormonal transition after joining the Gathering Gardeners. Regardless of age or background, Oliver has experienced near universal support from other members of the Marpole community. Throughout this period of personal growth, being met with kindness, acceptance and curiosity has been a pleasant surprise to Oliver. They recall how neighbours and fellow participants were merely happy to see Oliver living out their true identity. Oliver was even asked by a senior about how to make the Marpole community safer for trans people – a kind gesture that has stuck with them. At Marpole Neighbourhood House, Oliver can be their fullest self and know that they will be met with open arms.

As a member of the Gathering Gardeners and volunteer for the Family Meal Program, Oliver has come to feel a genuine sense of community. They truly “love Marpole Neighbourhood
House” for all that it offers and hopes that others see the value in these types of places. Now, Oliver knows what it feels like to walk down the street and be recognized by neighbours who know them by name. Oliver has “never felt a stronger sense of community than [they] do at Marpole Neighbourhood House.”


Thank you, Oliver, for sharing your story.

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