Amy Henry, health and wellness program director at Newport News Family YMCA and a naturalist with Virginia Master Naturalist Historic Southside Chapter, is all about improving people and the environment. So when Boy Scout David Wells approached her last year about a win-win project to earn his Eagle Scout award, she immediately said yes.
Then she applied for a mini-grant from askHRgreen.org.
The environmental organization awarded her funds in the spring, and she and David started working. In a few weeks, their plans to create four gardens near the Y’s water spray park bloomed. David secured donations of building supplies, recruited three fellow Boys Scouts to build garden boxes and enlisted his family: Mom Deidre Wells and sister Mary Amelia, both from Girl Scout Troop 1539, who were tasked with plant duty.
“David knew we wanted gardens. We’re right on the James River,” Henry says. “The plants filter our grounds’ water before it heads to the river. The environment is improved. We use the gardens to educate members in our preschool and camp programs, and people relax near the gardens. Relaxing is part of wellness.”
Mary Amelia and 11 other Girl Scouts used the grant funds to purchase plants. They chose to design four gardens—one edible; one sensory; one visual and sensory to attract butterflies; and one with a mixture of plants from the other three gardens.
“The girls talked to the staff at a greenhouse and thought about each purchase,” Henry says. “They were surprised when a zucchini grew. That wasn’t one of their intended purchases! It was such a hit that the girls want more for next year.”
The troop created educational materials about each plant that they did select and explained why they made the selections. Henry hopes to create additional materials to educate the Y’s camp participants and preschool students further. The preschoolers helped maintain the gardens last year and will continue to do so in the spring.
The garden design process had started with Bob Vasquez, a Virginia Master Naturalist with the Peninsula Chapter. He met with the girls several times. They each created a journal with their drawings of the spray park and layout ideas.
“We really explored the area. The girls learned about the plants and the wildlife there, and they asked a lot questions. They were so inquisitive,” Henry says.
Each step of the project, Henry considered the girls’ SOLs objectives and noted how their involvement helped them develop math, science and language skills.
More learning is on deck—she plans to install rain barrels in the garden in the near future. Henry will rely on the Girl Scouts to paint them. It’ll be a chance to continue the fun from last year, when the girls learned and enjoyed so much. They shared with Henry their favorite moments:
- “Learning what the different plants can be used for, like healing, relaxation, cooking, etc.”
- “Planting the gardens and getting my hands dirty.”
- “Feeling the soil and learning about the roots from Mr. Bob.”
- “Having a day to plant and create something great with my friends.”
- “Getting to feel all the different plant leaves.”
- “Deciding what plants work best for each garden we designed.”
- “Setting up and designing each garden layout.”
The girls certainly gained a lot from creating the garden, as many students have from similar projects, thanks to askHRgreen.org. Their mini-grants, which provide up to $500 for educators and organizations working with children to improve the environment, impacted 6,985 students during the group’s 2014–2015 fiscal year. Educators can apply for a grant at anytime. Applications are accepted year round as long as funding is available. A committee reviews applications monthly, and they respond to each submission by the 15th of the month by the 15th of the following month.
Details on the types of projects that they often approve are available at askHRgreen.org/Mini-Grant-Program.