Gardeners With Heart: Bridging Communities Through Connection

Apr 7, 2024

Gardeners With Heart: Bridging Communities Through Connection

Apr 7, 2024

Watch the video on YouTube here.


As we enter the second week of National Volunteer Month, we are honored to recognize a remarkable group of UC Master Gardener volunteers nominated for their exceptional work as Community Connection Leaders. These UC Master Gardeners have demonstrated outstanding leadership and passion in fostering connections within their communities and helped strengthen relationships with audiences and community partners.

Join us as we celebrate these inspiring "Gardeners with Heart" for their contributions to building stronger, more connected communities. Leave a comment of gratitude below!

Kathy Sheesley, a UC Master Gardener from Sutter-Yuba Counties, developed and implemented an impactful partnership with Habitat for Humanity's Harmony Village helping bring gardening knowledge to a community of previously unhoused individuals. Kathy has developed and delivered 10 educational workshops on gardening basics and pest management. Through the assistance of grant funding, Kathy spearheaded the purchase and implementation of a community garden on the grounds complete with 15 raised garden beds and various tools needed to work in the gardens. The impact on the Harmony Village community has been immeasurable. Through thoughtful educational workshops and one-on-one mentoring, Kathy has brought hope and happiness to an otherwise forgotten population.

Kim Stempien, a dedicated UC Master Gardener of Shasta County, has been instrumental in mentoring the next generation of gardeners. Through her efforts in school gardens, she has empowered students to cultivate healthy, vibrant spaces for learning and exploration. Kim has taken the lead in organizing a group of UC Master Gardeners to be school garden champions. These volunteers adopt a school garden and mentor them. The program is currently active at 13 school sites thanks to Kim's vision and passion!

Edith Lin, a UC Master Gardener from Santa Clara County, has demonstrated the transformative power of gardening in unexpected places. Through her work with incarcerated women, she has provided healing and purpose. Edith is in her third year leading the Gardens Inside - at Elmwood Correctional in Milpitas, Calif. The program, designed for minimum security, women inmates, is evolving and growing thanks to Edith's leadership. In two years, the Gardens Inside program has reached over 110 incarcerated women and produced approximately 250 pounds of fresh produce. Many of the women plan to start their own garden when released, all thanks to Edith's training and support.

Cynda Vyas, a UC Master Gardener from Marin County, exemplifies the spirit of community connection through her partnerships with local organizations and her commitment to sustainable gardening outreach. In her leadership role, Cynda has made a huge impact. More than 3,000 youth have benefited from projects like Farm Day, Exploring Habitats, and school gardens, and close to 10,000 adults have participated in events, classes, or hands-on workshops. Cynda helps support project leaders and frequently attends activities and events to lend a helping hand.

Jeanne Anne Pine, has shown exceptional leadership in her efforts to cultivate community gardens. Through her many projects, she has brought together diverse groups, fostering unity and resilience in Mariposa County. She advocates for the UC Master Gardener Program at Board of Supervisor meetings and on local radio stations. She connects us with local organizations, including the local history museum, the food insecurity network, and the Chamber of Commerce. Jeanne Anne reaches out and connects even the most unlikely of partners and then steps in to ensure the partnerships are successful.

Marilyn Carne-Smith, has been a powerhouse for the UC Master Gardeners of Orange County. Marilyn has helped create many connections throughout her community including reviving a relationship that lay dormant during Covid-19. Marilyn is the driving force behind the relationship between the Sherman Library and Gardens in Newport Beach. She started running an informational booth, providing gardening-related coloring books for children, and bringing in garden experts to speak on a monthly theme. Through this work, she is able to share gardening knowledge with community visitors and tourists, while also helping to educate other UC Master Gardeners. Orange County is fortunate to have someone working so hard to keep their community connected to gardening.

Martha Carpenter, a UC Master Gardener from Santa Clara County, helped rebuild the UC Master Gardener Library Talks program. Once the local libraries were ready to reopen and offer public events Martha rallied to bring a variety of UC Master Gardener volunteers in to speak and be Library Liaisons. She is an organized and strategic leader who used those skills to relaunch a dormant program at dozens of libraries throughout Santa Clara. The UC Master Gardener Program of Santa Clara County is lucky to have Martha!

Julian Hoyle, has been an instrumental UC Master Gardener on the education committee in Ventura County. Julian's commitment to excellence in training can been seen in his dedication to teaching several of the more challenging courses like Introduction to Science-Based Gardening, Basics of Botany, and the Use of Pesticides and Herbicides. He trains volunteers for the county's Help Desk, and is an active member of the Speakers Bureau. Over 700 UC Master Gardeners have been trained by Julian! Having someone like Julian who is so deeply respected in the community is inspiring.

Clio Tarazi, is a driving force in the UC Master Gardeners of Sonoma County. She has shown exceptional leadership in developing educational gardens. Her vision and dedication have created spaces for learning and growth, enriching the lives of community members for generations to come. As project leader of the Los Guilicos demonstration garden, Clio oversaw fellow UC Master Gardeners who rehabilitated a large and challenging site that had been impacted by wildfire. Clio was able to connect with local companies to acquire needed supplies such as irrigation materials and wood mulch. She also created a new relationship with the local Rotary International who provided more labor making this project a true community effort. Clio's skills and talents in making community connections and building partnerships have been key to Los Guilicos demonstration garden's success and strengthening the UC Master Gardener community in Sonoma County.

Susan Angell and Sheila Mutter, champions in Sonoma County, have created magical spaces for children to connect with nature. Their dedication to the Children's Garden has inspired countless young minds, fostering a deeper appreciation for the natural world. The UC Master Gardener Children's Garden is a 6 ½-acre farm on the east side of Sonoma managed by Sonoma Ecology Center (SEC). Hundreds of their young gardening visitors have benefited from this special place where families can come to play, taste, and learn about gardens.

We are incredibly grateful for the dedication, passion, and hard work of Cynda Vyas, Jeanne Anne Pine, Marilyn Carne-Smith, Martha Carpenter, Julian Hoyle, Kathy Sheesley, Clio Tarazi, Kim Stempien, Edit Lin, Susan Angell, Sheila Mutter, and their fellow UC Master Gardener volunteers, who have demonstrated in bridging communities and fostering connections through gardening and education. Their collective efforts have enriched the lives of individuals and families, creating stronger, more resilient communities for all. As we celebrate National Volunteer Month, let us express our heartfelt gratitude to these "Gardeners with Heart" for their invaluable service and commitment to building a brighter future for all.

About National Volunteer Month and Gardeners with Heart

During National Volunteer Month (April 1 - 30), the UC Master Gardener Program celebrates its incredible volunteers and their contributions to California communities. Gardeners with Heart volunteers were nominated for their outstanding work in fostering community connections and promoting gardening and education, highlighting their commitment to building stronger, more connected communities. Join us in honoring their dedication and passion for making a difference in the lives of others. If you would like to get involved and learn more about gardening in your community, you can find your local program here.

By Barbra Pushies
Author - Statewide Communications Specialist

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