The Soulful Stewardship Method

The Soulful Stewardship Method is a framework for connecting people and place which is grounded in the philosophy that personal sense-of-place stories spark meaningful connections, which cultivate caring and can lead to stewardship. Key to activating these stories, connections and actions is discovering a sense of place.

What is a Sense of Place?


The Soulful Stewardship Method approach to sense of place is that it consists of your personal combination of what you know and what you feel about a place. Your sense of place exists where your knowledge (facts, dates, information) and feelings (personal experience, story, memory) intersect. In that intersection is where you discover and develop your own sense of place.

Finding your sense of place can be an exciting lifelong learning process. As you grow, learn, see, feel and experience more, your connection to places grows. It's something you can cultivate daily, or whenever you feel the need to make more sense of your life or your world, past, present or future.

Knowledge + Experiences= Sense of Place


Why it matters

    In our fast paced, mobile lives today, it seems we move from one crisis to the next. There is rarely time to reflect, integrate or make sense of our lives or our world. There is a lack of confidence that we can share or express what matters to us in a way that can be heard or valued by others. There is great uncertainty about what the future holds or how to approach finding our common ground going forward.

    What is also true is that each of us has ancestors, from not that long ago, whose knowledge and identity were deeply rooted in the nature and history of a place. That sense of place, belonging and identity is deeply needed in the world today, where many people live far from where they grew up, by choice or otherwise. They may be unfamiliar with the multiple layers of time and story each place holds, or they unsure how the histories of others relates to them personally. They may be looking for ways to feel more rooted to a place, but unsure how to do so. They may want to make a difference, but are unsure how to do so. This brings up questions about how to foster deeper connections between people and place today.

    Sense of Place Sleuthing with the Youth Leadership Training for New Bedford National Historic Park,New Bedford, MA

    Sense of Place Sleuthing with the Youth Leadership Training for New Bedford National Historic Park,New Bedford, MA

    • How do we honor and remember the stories from our past?
    • How do we learn about places that are new to us?
    • How do we connect to the present, when the stories about where we live or visit might be quite different than our own?
    • How do we take care of places that we don't personally own, but are part of our collective heritage?
    • How can we help more people care about places, to enjoy and value not only for their historical or natural significance, but for less tangible reasons, which are sometimes the at the very root of caring about a place?
    • How do we cultivate a sense of place and belonging, no matter where we are?



    Finding Personal sense of Place connections is essential for taking care of places today and for the future.

    The good news is that personal sense of place connections can be remembered, evoked and restored no matter where you are, and no matter what your previous level of experience might be. Additionally, when the work of taking care of places through conservation, preservation, stewardship and planning starts feeling overwhelming or discouraging, remembering your deeper connections to places will restore your passion and increase your capacity to thrive.

    "We cannot win this battle to save species and environments without forging an emotional bond between ourselves and nature as well – for we will not fight to save what we do not love.” 
    Stephen Jay Gould

    The Soulful Stewardship Method offers framework to inspire stories that increase caring and stewardship. The Sense of Place Discovery Process can help you or your community discover, explore, articulate and share sense of place connections. This approach includes practical tools and techniques for discovering stories, making meaning and finding ways to take action in your life and the world, and has been honed and refined through more than a decade of working with groups across the country.

    "Of all the memberships we identify ourselves by the one thing that is most forgotten, and that has the greatest potential for healing, is place. We must learn to know, love, and join our place even more than we love our own ideas. People who can agree that they share a commitment to the landscape/cityscape -- even if they are otherwise locked in struggle with each other -- have at least one deep thing to share." 
    Gary Snyder

    The Sense of Place Discovery Process 


      The Sense of Place Discovery Process is a pathway for personal or professional development that works for gaining a sense of place no matter where you are. The 7 steps of this process will lead you on journey to:

      • Discover your sense of place stories
      • Uncover meaning and connections
      • Boost your story-crafting and delivery skills
      • Explore actions you can take in your life and the world

      The process offers tools and techniques to explore the layers of time, meaning and story that places hold. You can find these layers anywhere, from a defined natural or cultural heritage site, to the street corner outside your front door. This process can be used to gain a fresh perspective about a place you know well, or to help you begin to feel connected to a place you don't know at all. It works equally well for all kinds of settings, from historic to military, and from urban to wild.

      The journey begins with a simple, yet powerful creative practice to help you uncover sense of place stories and imagery. (Effective even with people who think they are not the creative type!) It continues with building sensory awareness, and then learning to see and "sleuth" the layers of history, nature, time, memory and meaning a place holds.

      Once you gain some insights and ideas, there are prompts and other tools give you an opportunity to reflect, integrate, and find personal meanings and connections. You then acquire tools for developing and crafting stories, and techniques for honing delivery skills, sharing your connections, and finding a action or next step that feels empowering and authentic to you. This combination of practical tools, techniques and experiences will give you a new way of looking at yourself and the world around you. And with that, you will be prepared for your next step, which can be taking action in the world.

      The 7-Step Personal or Professional Path

       Sense of Place Discovery Retreat, Murie Center, Moose, WY

       Sense of Place Discovery Retreat, Murie Center, Moose, WY

      Personal Discovery Path

      For individuals of all ages and levels of experience:
      If you want to explore your personal stories and connections to places from your past or present, this path will open a door of creativity, insight and connections. It will fuel your life and recharge your spirit.

      While there are many doors in to finding personal stories, memories and connections, a sense of place entry point can be one of the most powerful.

      Customized to work with youth, teens and adults.

      1. FIND YOUR STORY A powerful process to reveal your personal connection to place, uncovering a well of creative imagery and ideas.

      2. INCREASE SENSORY AWARENESS  Tap into a toolbox of techniques that can be used anywhere to slow down and connect to place, no matter where you are.

      3. UNCOVER MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS See the familiar with new eyes. Generate fresh ideas through discussion, reflection, and integrative time.

      4. DEVELOP YOUR IDEAS Gain a framework for structuring your ideas that integrates your knowledge and experience.

      5. CRAFT YOUR STORY Invest time to shape your ideas and hone your delivery skills. Receive supportive feedback to refine your thoughts and communicate effectively.

      6. SHARE YOUR STORY Find common ground with others through shared stories and experiences. Discover how your voice can make a difference.

      7. INSPIRATION THAT LASTS Use the ideas you have sparked to create songs, stories, programs and more. Discuss ways to continue to creating and staying inspired, especially during challenging times.

      Underground Railroad Heritage Center, National Heritage Area Training

      Underground Railroad Heritage Center, National Heritage Area Training

      Interpretive Guide Training, Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough NH

      Interpretive Guide Training, Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough NH

      Professional Discovery Path

      For interpreters, guides and volunteers: If your work involves creating programs, tours or media that connect people and place, this path will boost your creative thinking, help you develop engaging content and increase your delivery skills. You'll learn how to incorporate traditional interpretive techniques and 21st century best practices.

      For Educators: If you are an educator, this will give you a personal recharge and provide tools and techniques to inspire deeper connections to place in yourself and your students.

      For Organizations: If you are a mission based organization, this work can help you find stories about your work, team build and gain techniques to engage the public.

      1. DISCOVER YOUR SENSE-OF-PLACE STORY Experience a powerful process to reveal your personal connection to place, uncovering a well of creative connections and ideas.

      2. PRACTICE IN-THE-FIELD TECHNIQUES Gain a toolbox of techniques that can be used anywhere to slow down and connect to place.

      3. RETHINK THE ART AND SCIENCE OF INTERPRETATION Participate in an interactive discussion to help generate ideas to think more creatively about your audience and your site.

      4. ENHANCE YOUR DELIVERY STYLE Strengthen story-telling techniques and build skills through small-group work.

      5. DEVELOP A WELL-BALANCED PROGRAM Individual time to develop creative ideas and enhance your visitor programs through inspiring worksheets and personal instructor feedback/ coaching.

      6. PRACTICE A SOULFUL PROGRAM Practice new tools and techniques, integrate fresh ideas and gain feedback to create a winning program centered around reflection, integration and audience engagement. Solo and/or collaborative work depending on length of training.

      7. INSPIRATION THAT LASTS Synthesize learning, share feedback, and identify techniques for staying resilient.

      FAQ's and Case Studies (coming soon)


      For individuals

      • Boost creativity
      • Generate fresh ideas for use in personal or professional work
      • Reflect and make more sense of your life and the world
      • Increase sense of belonging, community and connection (no matter where you are)
      • Discover how to use your authentic passions to make a difference
      "I loved Erica Wheeler's  "Discover Your Personal Sense of Place Through Writing and Reflection." She created a safe and supportive environment for participants to write about the places that move them, that make them feel human, that anchor them in time and space. At the end of the 3- part writing prompt, I had enough material to write several powerful essays as well as a new idea for an inspirational card deck. If that wasn't enough, Erica listened to what I wrote and in less than a minute had whipped up a terrific song. If anyone can rally the preservation troops to get "a sense of place" off the endangered species list, it's Erica Wheeler." Workshop Participant, Upton State Forest, MA

      For Visitor Services/Professional Development

      • Generate fresh ideas
      • Gain skills and practice techniques to improve program content and delivery
      • Learn how to engage diverse visitors
      • Give the best tours and visitor experiences possible
      • Team-build, collaborate and increase capacity to mitigate burnout
      “Erica creates a kind of alchemy in the room where even the most timid of us is inspired to find the writer within. She gave us new tools and reminded me of tools I once knew and had long forgotten. She inspired me to get back to an interpretive project I had put aside which I am now working on with renewed enthusiasm and focus.”  Training Participant, National Association for Interpretation

      Organizations/National, Regional and Community Events

      • Inspire sense of place stories
      • Increase caring and support for the work you do
      • Connect diverse audiences to diverse places
      • Boost partnerships, collaboration and alliances through shared stories of place
      • Recharge your passion for your work
      "We invited Erica out for a week to help celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Big Sur Land Trust. We partnered with her to offer a variety of events for our community, from public concerts and workshops to local school programs. Her positive impact reverberated throughout our community and continues to this day. Her ability to connect people and place beautifully aligned with our mission to strengthen communities and inspire stewardship." Bill Leahy, Executive Director, Big Sur Land Trust

      For Youth Leadership and Academic Programs

      • Empower self-expression
      • Integrate academic knowledge with personal experience.
      • Discover a sense of place and belonging anywhere.
      • Explore how a sense of place inspires stewardship and sustainability.

        "With its emphasis on integrating writing, music, and a sense of place, Erica's workshop was incredibly inspiring... [She] gave us all an invaluable opportunity to reflect on our connections to the land, our personal history, and our best selves."
        Walter Poleman, Faculty Director, University of Vermont, VT

      7-Step Sense of Place Discovery Path (Diagram coming soon)