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VOL. 127 | NO. 190 | Friday, September 28, 2012

Volunteer Spirit

Memphis Botanic Garden looks for business volunteers

By Andy Meek

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Next month, a group from Emory University in Atlanta is coming to the Memphis Botanic Garden to participate in an “alternative fall break.”

Hailee Brown and Kelsey Coolican of Christian Brothers University explain the life cycles of insects to a group of children at the Memphis Botanic Garden as part of the CBU S.O.S. (September of Service) program.

(Photo Courtesy of Memphis Botanic Garden)

They’re going to spend a few days working there – specifically with the horticulture department. And it’s exactly the kind of thing the folks who run the 96-acre property are eager to see more of.

The botanical garden can buzz with hundreds of children attending its events from one day to the next, which is why it’s extending its corporate volunteer program out to local businesses. It’s an attempt to encourage those volunteers from the business world to give back to the community as well as enjoy what can be rewarding team-building experiences at the garden.

The garden’s staff and volunteers are looking to connect area businesses interested in lending their volunteer support to several opportunities. There are three events in October, for example – an Eco-Trek Monday, Oct. 1, through Friday, Oct. 5, an old-fashioned harvest festival Oct. 23 through Oct. 26 and Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, and a Halloween Hike Oct. 27.

The garden collectively needs dozens of volunteers for those events.

“We could also arrange a day for a business to work with our horticulture staff on a specific project,” said Page McCoy, director of volunteers at the botanic garden. “Companies in the past have spent the day working in one of our many gardens, then taken the afternoon to have a picnic-type lunch.”

Other events on the calendar that corporate volunteers could help with include a breakfast with Santa Dec. 1 and a family egg hunt coming in the spring.

“We’re a nonprofit organization, and we rely heavily on volunteers to support our program,” McCoy said.

Indeed, the garden was founded by volunteers. And in that respect, it’s different from other botanic gardens.

“A lot of them started as estates, and the families gave their home and grounds to a city or foundation to run, but ours was started by a group of volunteers,” said Mary Helen Butler, director of administration at the garden.

And the property includes a lot today to keep visitors busy with – and, thus, volunteers in demand for.

The property includes 23 specialty gardens. Each year more than 43,000 children are served by the garden.

“We had a group from Deloitte & Touche come out last year, and they did a whole day of working in the garden and all over the place and kind of had a fun picnic at the end of it,” Butler said. “Our educational programs need volunteers throughout the year. We have festivals where we sometimes have 600 children a day here doing educational programming.

“We’re trying to remind the different businesses that this is a great opportunity to come and do service work, but then it’s also kind of fun for the company itself to come do something together.”

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