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Who Thought a Garden Could Do All This?

Who Thought a Garden Could Do All This?

by Chad Washburn
Deputy Director, Naples Botanical Garden

This summer, as the SWFL Community Foundation gears up for the next competitive grant cycle, we have asked our 2015 grantees to send us their stories. Here this week we learn from Chad Washburn of the Naples Botanical Garden about how our grant allowed their organization to provided therapeutic programs for people with Alzheimer’s Disease, as well as students with special needs. The Foundation is pleased to partner with these change makers. If you have ideas and hope for the future, we’d love to hear from you at [email protected] or @SWFLCFnd on Twitter.

Every Thursday morning, a group of gardeners gathers around a table at Naples Botanical Garden to discuss a plan for the day’s work. Dressed in bright green uniform shirts with clippers in hand, the gardeners make decisions ranging from the design of a new chocolate-themed planting to who is responsible for pinching back the fragrant herbs this week. These gardeners are responsible for ensuring that the Buehler Family Foundation Enabling Garden is in world-class shape for visitors; however, gardening is not the main reason they are here.
These eight high school students from Mrs. Jacqueline William’s special needs class are just one of the many groups here to learn skills necessary to be successful in the workplace. Each month, sixteen exceptional students come to the Garden through a partnership with Collier County Public Schools. Guided by a job coach and the Buehler Enabling Garden Program Coordinator, they are learning the skills necessary for a successful transition to the workplace.
The goal of the program is to empower students by improving their opportunities to gain meaningful employment after graduation. In addition to learning the skills needed for the workplace, the program helps the students identify their strengths and interests, improves personal and social skills, and reinforces daily living skills in a positive and welcoming environment.
Gigi, a recent graduate of the program, has been growing radishes and moon flowers at home for a month in hopes of expanding her very own garden. Kristy Burke Graham, Gigi’s mother, said the program has been “life-changing” for both Gigi and herself. “While in the program, I saw Gigi’s confidence come back…and now she is ready and wants to explore the real world.”
In the two years since the partnership began, the students’ aspirations have grown along with their successes in the Garden. The vegetables they raise from seed are harvested and taken back to school where they are cooked in the classroom. This year the students began designing artwork for labels and hope to launch their own line of seeds in the Garden’s Gift Shop.
In addition to the pre-vocational program, the Garden hosts a wide range of plant-based therapeutic programs with a goal of improving quality of life. Each year, over 200 local students and adults visit the Garden for formal therapeutic programs. The Garden strives to inspire the local community with educational and therapeutic programs that cater to and empower all ages.

Naples Botanical Garden is a 170-acre world-class garden paradise that features the plants and cultures of the tropics and subtropics between the latitudes of 26 degrees North and 26 degrees South including Brazil, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and Florida. A hands-on interactive Children’s Garden along with 90 acres of beautifully restored natural habitats, walking trails and a Butterfly Garden offer educational entertainment and enjoyment for people of all ages. Regular hours of operation are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day with an early opening on Tuesdays at 8 a.m. Regular admission is $14.95 for adults, $9.95 for children (4-14), members and children 3 and under get in free.

If you want to visit and become part of this slice of heaven in Southwest Florida, check them out at, or call (239) 643-7275.

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 $88 million, the Community Foundation has provided $61.2 million in grants and scholarships to the communities it serves. Last year, it granted more than $2.9 million to nonprofit organizations supporting education, animal welfare, arts, healthcare and human services. It granted $782,000 in nonprofit grants including more than $400,000 in regional community impact grants and additional $450,000 in scholarship grants.

For more information about the Southwest Florida Community Foundation, call 239-274-5900 or visit

Southwest Florida Community Foundation
Southwest Florida Community Foundation

Our ambition is a more vibrant community that will continually address the evolving community needs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida. We invite you to join our family and invest in the community with us!