by Renee Waller, Communications Coordinator, Naples Botanical Garden
At Naples Botanical Garden, we strive to not only connect people with plants, but also to inspire and offer barrier-free access to the pleasures of the garden experience. Gardening, after all, is about so much more than plant knowledge. The act of gardening requires patience, problem-solving skills, and physical activity; gardening in a shared space with other people necessitates teamwork and cooperation. Nowhere are these qualities more evident than in the Buehler Family Foundation Enabling Garden, a space uniquely designed to allow people of all abilities to participate in the art of gardening.
The Buehler Enabling Garden is the site for a collaborative program that brings together teachers and students from Collier County Public Schools. The pre-vocational program aims to educate, engage, and empower high school students with special needs and ease the difficult transition into adulthood. Each week throughout the year, students work together to tend the Garden while gaining the ‘come to work’ skills necessary to gain employment after graduation. The students, working together as a team, design, plant, cultivate, and harvest the garden’s fertile beds. Vital life skills such as creative problem solving, teamwork and leadership, socially appropriate behaviors, and increased self-esteem have resulted from this program; these skills represent a higher level of learning, as they not only follow students back to the classroom by improving test scores and academic dedication, but also follow them home to instill feelings of self-efficacy and personal wellness.
Students in one session this year were given the challenge of designing and building an herb garden in a small space. Given a list of materials and an area to bring their plan to life, the students set about finding a solution. Their design, an herb spiral, was based on a project they learned about earlier in the year. When building the spiral, students worked in an assembly line to layer bricks which increased in height as the spiral got tighter in the middle. One student, Wilson, took on the role of a creative problem solver when the group prematurely ran out of bricks. He stepped forward as the leader, instructing his classmates how to rearrange the existing bricks to complete the spiral. Another student, JP, climbed into the garden bed to stack bricks on the hard to reach places. Jimmy and Rosa then passed him the bricks he needed to work in the middle. The students worked as a team to fill the spiral with soil, then learned about different herbs before each planting one. This session required the group to come together to creatively solve a problem. The challenge offered students the opportunity to use the vocational and social skills learned in the program.
This is just one of many examples of the unique work being done to further our mission, empower lives, and improve the quality of life in our community. Through the grant from the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, the Garden is growing this partnership with schools and local service providers to significantly expand our pre-vocational programs.
This summer and fall, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is spotlighting the nonprofit organizations funded through the 2016 competitive grant cycle. We have asked our 2016 grantees to send us their stories. The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change-makers.
About the Southwest Florida Community Foundation
As leaders, conveners, grant makers and concierges of philanthropy, the Southwest Florida Community Foundation is a foundation built on community leadership with an inspired history of fostering regional change for the common good in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Community Foundation, founded in 1976, connects donors and their philanthropic aspirations with evolving community needs. With assets of more than $93 million, the Community Foundation has provided more than $63 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $3.2 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services, as well as provided regional community impact grants and scholarship grants.