Thursday, December 3, 2009

Giving Thanks and Giving Back

This time of year is traditionally a time of giving - thanks, gifts, service and so on. It's no secret that 2009 has been a difficult year for businesses, families, individuals, politicians and, yes, cultural institutions like ours. In light of all of the year's troubles and uncertainty, we have that much more reason to be thankful. The 2009 Spring Plant Sale had its biggest year of all time, as did the Fall Plant Sale just a few weeks ago. Antiques at The Gardens brought in more than $300,000 and attendance to Cocktails in The Gardens more than doubled that of 2008.

All of these great events help us further our mission to promote public knowledge and appreciation of plants, gardens and the environment. Among The Gardens' largest undertakings are the free Discovery Field Trips we offer from September-May. In the 2008-2009 school year, the number of children from Birmingham City Schools attending these unique, award-winning field trips increased 9%; attendance from Bessemer City Schools increased an impressive 36%! Of course we would not be able to offer these programs for free if not for the help from Junior League of Birmingham or Vulcan Materials, who offer transportation reimbursement for Birmingham City and Bessemer City Schools, respectively. The Junior League also provides us with a team of dynamic and loyal volunteers to serve as docents on Discovery Field Trips.

Our Horticultural Therapy program won its first national award, the John Walker Community Service Award, this summer. The program keeps growing, servicing over 2,400 clients last year, with the help of increased media attention and grants. The launch of the P.L.A.N.T. program, which pairs exceptional students with mentors from independent living facilities, was a huge milestone.

There are countless other reasons to celebrate this year. Through the Birmingham Cultural Alliance Partnership (BCAP), we continue to team with Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to provide after-school learning opportunites for Birmingham schoolchildren. In January, we began a cooperative with some of Alabama's best photographers and teachers called the Southern Institute of Photography. Most classes are on weekday nights and offer some of the most comprehensive learning experiences for new photographers to experienced professionals.

We also participate and partner with Fresh Air Family, an organization started by Verna Gates, a well-known Birmingham speaker, writer, photographer and nature-lover. The Library posted record numbers for circulation several months this year as well. The reasons to rejoice span all programs and departments here at The Gardens, owing much to our great volunteers, donors, community and hardworking team of staff.

So to bring it all back in - this holiday season, all of us at The Gardens would like, first of all, to give our thanks to the community for all of its support, whether it be through making a monetary donation, sacrificing your time, utilizing your talents or simply coming out and enjoying the beauty of The Gardens. THANK YOU! But furthermore, as we continue to seek opportunities to give back to you and your community, are you willing to help? There are innumerable ways to get involved, from working at events to digging in the dirt to teaching children about peanuts and the nitrogen cycle to teaching a class to stuffing envelopes to putting up posters to becoming a member to giving a memorial gift to planning a bequest to The Gardens...the list goes on and on. Give us a call and we'll get you planted right where you belong.

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