by Lauren Munsey, 2015 Florida Fellow
Jet-lagged from my European adventure that ended just days before, I drove to my next (less expensive) adventure: Southwest Florida. For two hours, 23 minutes and roughly 30 seconds, I contemplated about how SWFL was going to treat me. Are we going to be friends or fr-enemies? Will I fit in? What are my fellow Fellows going to be like? It was a game of 20 questions with myself, and I was losing desperately.
I met the other Fellows early on in this adventure. Plot twist: we live together. Late for dinner, I walk in to half-eaten plates and three very smiley people. As the night went on, I again played a game of 20 questions with my three Fellows. Mercifully, I was not losing this time. Hours later, we all went to bed and pondered what could be in store for us on our first day.
“Can they smell my fear, yet?” was the question I asked myself as I braved the plank into the Southwest Florida Community Foundation office. I put on my best “everything is fine” façade and sat down. HI’s, hellos, handshakes. After protocol paperwork, I was then introduced to the organization to which I was assigned. The lucky winner, you ask? Naples Botanical Garden. I would be supervised by NBG’s Deputy Director Chad Washburn. A brilliant mind with a love for The Grateful Dead, I knew we were going to get along swimmingly.
Over these past four weeks, I’ve learned more about Chad, the NBG staff and the Garden itself. I’ve toured the garden multiple times and each time I learn something knew. Every blink shows something I was blind to before: a truly humbling familiarity.
Naples Botanical Garden is the kind of place that inspires all. Now I’m no Plath, but to better express my experiences (so far) at the Garden, I’ve crafted this:
Popcorn plants; chocolate flowers.
Chanel No.5 scented leaves.
Soapy seeds; potted-plant pants.
Ecosystems with attitude.
Plants with latitude.
Naples Botanical Garden.
With a sensory-oriented Enabling Garden, it quite literally “awakens the senses.” The Enabling Garden actually has plants that smell like buttered popcorn and flowers that smell of hot cocoa. Benches line the garden so visitors can sit, breathe and just exist with nature. And exist, they do.
At the Garden, my overall task is to write content for the website about the Enabling Garden and the NBG community programs within it. I’m creating messaging for programs ranging from Co-Step, a program that teaches students with disabilities vocational skills in the garden, to the Alzheimer’s Sensory program, which puts emphasis on stimulating each person’s senses through plants. These programs are based around improving the quality-of-life for all those involved.
As I type this I look down at my watch, Dali’s “Melting Clocks” as its face, and I question time itself. It’s been a little over a month since my arrival and it feels like months. My time here has been absolutely brilliant, and I still have four weeks left. It’s clear to see that SWFL is becoming a dear, dear friend.
In an added effort to assist nonprofits funded by the SWFL Community Foundation this year, the Foundation is hosting four students studying public interest communications at the University of Florida as part of the Foundation’s Florida Fellowship program. Funded by the Al & Nancy Burnett Charitable Foundation, the students are working in three of our nonprofit grantee organizations this summer for an 8-week paid fellowship. For more information on the SWFL Community Foundation, its grants processes or to be part of the change that the grantees are working toward in the region, contact us at [email protected], or call us, we’d love to have a conversation, 239-274-5900.