Local Teens Learn and Grow at Selby Gardens

More than 30 local teens have spent this summer volunteering at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The program, dubbed “Selby Explorers,” has been a win-win opportunity for both the Gardens and the students. Besides earning school credit and accumulating volunteer hours for scholarships, many students have enjoyed informal apprenticeships with Selby scientists and horticulturists. Selby, in turn, has been able to tackle projects that normally languish when its “snowbird” volunteers take flight to cooler climes.

Cayle Sullivan, who volunteers in the Center for Tropical Plant Science and Conservation, says the experience is a double blessing for her: “I’m going into science as a career, so the binomial nomenclature is really useful for me, and it (volunteering in the research center) helps me with figuring out what I’m going to do. But I also like the office experience, because it’ll help when I’m looking for a job next summer.”

Social opportunities are another plus. Thaís Faria volunteers in several departments. “I like working in the greenhouse, because it’s interactive with the plants. But helping out in Research is good, too, because I’ve been getting more friends!”

Horticulturist Lisa Wade is delighted with her cadre of teens who want to learn about gardening and outdoor plants. “They’re ready, willing and able to do whatever we ask them to do, and they’re doing a fantastic job. It’s been an awesome and refreshing experience to work with these dedicated young people.”

Selby Explorers evolved when Volunteer Manager Emily Chalker Lane noticed a tremendous increase in the number of students contacting the Gardens about summer volunteer opportunities: “Most summers, we’ve had four or five students volunteer, but this year, I heard from dozens who needed hours for school or for Bright Futures scholarships.” (Bright Futures is a scholarship program for graduates of Florida high schools). With the enthusiastic support of CEO Tom Buchter, Lane developed a program that brought the students together for social and educational opportunities as well as their regular volunteer duties.

A big highlight for the teens was Botanist Bruce Holst’s lecture about one of his many scientific expeditions to a remote rainforest. Holst, who oversees the Gardens’ herbarium, is a frequent participant in research expeditions both locally and abroad. Says Holst, “Seeing the dedicated, thoughtful, and hard work of our teen volunteers first-hand gives me a little more hope for the future of our planet.”

2009 was the first year the Gardens has offered such a program.   Staff members will work to refine Selby Explorers throughout the coming year.