Wednesday, April 30, 2014

IT STARTED WITH AN IMAGE: MY ADVENTURES AT THE BROOKLYN BOTANIC GARDENS

The image that led me to The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
A little more than a year ago, I kept getting images in my mind of flowers, plants and trees, and of me being surrounded by these things.

During that time, I found a greeting card (pictured above) which perfectly captured the feeling of what I wanted to be around.  Putting the card on my desk where I could see it each day seemed easier than going through all the steps of making a vision board.  So I just let the image stay there for a good long time so it could stay in my consciousness.

As the days passed with the garden-themed card on my desk, I started thinking about the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, and decided to go up there during the the weekend of the Sakura Matsuri cherry blossom festival.  It was a total madhouse, just thick with the bodies of thousands of people.  I made my way into the Visitor's Center where I happened to run into BBG's Director of Visitor Services and Volunteers, Lou Cesario.  He was an affable, down-to-earth guy with a fun guitar tattoo and stories of growing up in a big, Italian family.

I told him that I was interested in being part of the BBG, and he sent me online to apply to be a volunteer.

I was recruited to serve as a docent in the Education Department, and was lucky enough to be trained by two fantastic women - Shaquana Boykin and Ashley Gamell. 

Fast forward a year, and I am still in my post as an education docent, helping children, parents, educators and caregivers interact with all the mystery and magic of The Fragrance Garden, a section of the BBG which is set up so that everything in it can be smelled or touched.  After arriving in the morning, we docents set up several stations - a worm bin so that people can learn about composting (they can even hold the worms!); a story mat full of picture books about the natural environment; and one or two information tables full of objects which relate to the theme of the week and which the children can explore in a hands-on fashion. 

The information table has been a home to all kinds of interesting things - seeds of a variety of  shapes and sizes; nests; gourds; plants; objects related to pollinators.  We almost always have a scavenger hunt where children can check off things they find in the garden.  Sometimes, they get to pot up plants.  It's so rewarding to see young people, including toddlers, as well as adults, make a connection, their very own personal connection, with the natural environment. 

Aside from serving in my post as a docent, I've also had a blast helping to run children's science and art activities as the members-only and special events of the BBG.  Last spring, hundreds of young people came and decorated cardboard top hats with every kind of craft supply under the sun.  Feathers, ribbons, and pom poms were flying everywhere that day, and I could see the NY Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham a few feet away, snapping photos of the children and the hats.

There's such a positive vibe at the BBG, and everyone - staff, volunteers, and visitors - are so friendly, that it's hard to NOT feel good while you are there.

I've particularly enjoyed my interactions with President Emeritus Betty Scholtz, who has been at the gardens for 50-plus years.  She comes by car service almost every day, gets around on a walker, and is extremely sharp and interesting. She is my inspiration!

I love hearing behind the scenes stories of how people let their pets loose here (they are not supposed to), and tales of how raccoons sneak into places they are not supposed to be and end up scaring people.  I keep thinking about what a great movie that would make, a movie about how the animals take over the gardens at night, have dance parties in The Palm House, read books in the library, and have relay races on the Cherry Esplanade.

This year, there are two special things happening at the BBG: They are celebrating the 100th year of The Children's Garden and they are receiving an honorary medal from The Institute of Museum and Library Services. The award will be presented by Michelle Obama at The White House.

I look forward to many more years of adventures and friendships at the BBG, and am glad I let that image guide me to this very special, important, and magical place.

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