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Virtual garden tour will help local women bloom

“Bright hopes and pure delights

Upon his course may beam,

And there, amid the sternest heights

The sweetest flowerets gleam.

On all her breezes borne,

Earth yields no scents like those;

But he that dares not grasp the thorn

Should never crave the rose.”

— Anne Brontë, “The Narrow Way,” 1848

I met a young woman named Aracely a couple of years ago at Hanley Farm. I was working in the Bard’s Garden as a volunteer for the Family Nurturing Center’s Farm and Food Program, and Aracely, mother to a son who was 3 at the time and a newborn daughter, was participating in an FNC mom’s group that focused on strategies for relaxation and mindfulness.

I joined the group, too, and one day we spent part of the session planting in the garden. Aracely told us that her grandmother had recently passed away, so we dedicated a grandiflora rose bush in her memory.

I thought about Aracely recently when I was admiring the rose bush, now in full bloom and covered with beautiful pink roses. Over the years, the rose bush has grown and thrived at the farm, and I wondered if Aracely and her children were doing the same.

In a delightful incidence of serendipity, the local Soroptimists brought me and Aracely and the rose bush together again when I talked to the group about this year’s Gardens for Good tour.

Each year, the Soroptimist of North Valley hosts a tour of several private gardens in the area as a fundraiser for the group’s Live Your Dream Awards. The program provides grants to women in our area as part of its mission to “economically empower women and girls by providing access to education, the single most effective anti-poverty intervention.”

Imagine my surprise when the Soroptimists put me in touch with last year’s Live Your Dream Award recipient, and it turned out to be Aracely! She received a $2,000 grant for education-related expenses; another woman received $1,000.

Come to find out that Aracely is thriving with a bit of support. She’s in the Early Childhood Development program at Rogue Community College, and she was able to use the grant money for part of her tuition and textbooks. As a single mom of two young children, one of whom has special needs, Aracely juggles child care, work and school to make a better life for her family. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of a Live Your Dream Award than Aracely.

I have no doubt she will realize her dream of earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood to become a teacher, and then she wants to continue on for a master’s degree so she can one day be a director of an early childhood/preschool program that serves children with disabilities. Her goal is to advocate for higher education and higher pay for early childhood teachers.

Aracely said, “The skill required to work with children with high needs requires a high level of education and understanding of how trauma and poverty affect children. I would like to incorporate my knowledge and skills working with young children to change how the preschool and day care programs work.”

Aracely is a determined young woman, and so are the Soroptimist ladies, who aren’t allowing the pandemic to prevent them from raising money for the Live Your Dream Awards. They are organizing a virtual garden tour, whereby participants can access a one-hour videotaped tour of eight gardens in Ashland, Talent and Central Point with commentary by the gardeners.

Optional donations of $10 payable online will help the Soroptimists meet this year’s goal of raising $1,500 for the program. The video will be available June 1 on the Soroptimist website at www.soroptimistinnorthvalley.com.

Here is the perfect opportunity to take a garden tour without leaving your house and, at the same time, help women reach their educational goals.

The featured gardens range from small, newly planted suburban plots to expansive country retreats that have evolved over 30 years. All of the gardens boast beautiful plantings in sunny and shady spaces.

Most of the featured gardens were planted with pollinators in mind, and a few have earned recognition as pollinator-friendly gardens from the Rogue Valley Pollinator Project. I was pleased to include the Bard’s Garden, filled with plants that are mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays, in the video as well. Check out the Soroptimist website for a description of each of the gardens and instructions for accessing the video.

After I talked to Aracely, I sent her a picture of the blooming rose bush in the Bard’s Garden. She said, “Wow, the roses are thriving! I’m glad I was a part of making the garden so gorgeous.” I’m happy that Aracely got to see her grandma’s rose bush again, and to learn that she’s doing well. With a little bit of help, rose bushes, and young women, bloom beautifully.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/ and check out her podcasts and videos at https://mailtribune.com/podcasts/the-literary-gardener, and her website at www.literarygardener.com.