The holidays are over and the season for planning is upon us! Well, I suppose the season for planning never really ends for the board and staff members of the GardenWorks Project – although there is a healthy pause when our team shifts gears into garden build mode during the growing season. But now is the time for our team to think strategically about how we can refine our internal processes to improve upon the previous year’s successes serving our clients and communities. And since I am not as horticulturally gifted as my GardenWorks colleagues, I am happy to roll up my sleeves for some pre-season strategic planning.
From the very beginning of my time volunteering with GardenWorks, I have in-part been motivated by a desire to elevate my game as a community planner and civil servant. Around the time of first learning about GardenWorks I was a not-so-recent urban planning program graduate with aspirations of work in local government. And no, I did not draw my career inspiration from Parks and Recreation – which I have since learned is the most recognizable pop-culture reference to the planning profession. The job would come later – but it was along the dizzying path to career-land, frequented by so many millennials, that I discovered GardenWorks. The then-fledgling community organization was just beginning its second year of operation, whose existence I learned of through a volunteer meeting flyer tacked on the Glen Ellyn Library’s event board. I was later relieved to learn that gardening expertise was not a prerequisite to serving as a volunteer. But I was genuinely thrilled at the chance to finally apply my two years of graduate education in helping this young community organization to build some credentials, if only in the smallest of ways.
I credit the organization’s Founder, Tina Koral, with setting the standard for recruiting a motivated group of volunteers to build a community service organization from the ground up. As with any growing organization we have witnessed occasions of uncertainty and rapid change, but each stage of our evolution has elevated our capacity to bring about positive results for the clients we serve. It has been a pleasure to watch GardenWorks clear new milestones each year, the product of aspirational planning and a recognition of the many talents that we are fortunate to draw upon. I am continually amazed by the dedication and steadfast commitment to community wellness of my board colleagues, each with their own hefty set of personal and professional obligations. The resourcefulness of this group and our staff is on display at our monthly board meetings, where discussion bridges the divide between our vision and goals with the on-the-ground work needed to make it all happen. These are occasions for tracking progress, but also for discussing the big ideas and possibilities that may shape GardenWorks’ future. Fundamentally, our work always returns to a simple question: Where can we grow next? I can’t wait to find out.
As for that first planning job, it did come eventually … with no small thanks to my time spent at GardenWorks featured prominently at the top of my resume.