There may be some purple prose, for which I will absolutely not apologize for.
Several years ago a wonderful teenager came into our lives at the Arboretum, volunteering on Saturdays with me.
In the few years of volunteering she formed bonds with other high schoolers from completely different schools and it has been amazing to watch their friendships form and grow.
This past spring she spoke at our fundraiser, ART in the Garden. I will quote her here:
Good evening everyone, and thanks for being here. My name is Lexie, and I’m a high school student here in Summit. Having grown up here, I’ve been visiting the Reeves-Reed Arboretum for nearly my whole life, but I first started volunteering about two years ago. At the time, I was going through one of the hardest periods of my life, dealing with health issues and the isolation of the pandemic. After realizing I needed some community service hours for school, I came here one Saturday morning. I still remember my first volunteering session, weeding the rose garden with a few other volunteers. It was only two hours, but for me, in the midst of so much fear and loneliness, those two hours were the most peaceful and normal I had felt in a long time.
So, even after fulfilling my hours, I kept coming. I began to look forward more and more to Saturdays here. That escape from the daily stress of school and my recovery is what kept me going. And the more I learned about the Arboretum and its history, the more I was compelled to become a part of it.
Over the course of those two years, the Arboretum has been one of the most cherished parts of my life. I’ve found amazing friends in my fellow volunteers, and made great memories with them, from riding in the back of the pickup truck to planting daffodils. I’ve found inspiration for my own artistic hobbies in the community of artists who have put their passion on display here. And I’ve learned so much about plant science and what it takes to maintain a place like this thanks to the patience and expertise of staff like Julie, who my fellow volunteers and I continue to admire. This place has helped me make friends and memories, explore my own passions, and experience my interests in new ways. Most of all, though, it’s given me the chance to be a part, however small, of a mission that I believe in.
I am far from the only one whose life has been impacted this way. From my fellow volunteers, who I know love this place as much as I do, to everyday visitors, who, like me, have found an escape here from their everyday lives, to the hundreds of young people who have been educated here, the Arboretum is quietly but undeniably changing lives.
So, what is it about the Arboretum that makes it so powerful? It’s easy to see that its natural beauty is remarkable, and its long history gives it a rich heritage. It’s hard to deny that this place is extraordinary. But it takes more than that for a place to have an impact like the one it’s had on me – this incredible beauty and history couldn’t be kept alive without the people who do so. The real lifeblood of this place is its community.
In particular, what sets our community apart is its sense of care. As simple as this sounds, it’s something I’ve never seen paralleled anywhere else. The Reeves-Reed Arboretum is built around acts of giving. Giving young children opportunities to experience nature that they might never otherwise have. Giving current and future generations the joy and awe that comes from natural beauty in a world where it’s becoming increasingly rare. Giving artists and creators inspiration and a platform to show their work to the world. Giving our local community a place to connect with each other. Giving life-changing inspiration to ordinary people like me.
This is what makes this place so powerful – the people who dedicate their time, resources, and creativity to its mission. The selflessness that underlies everything we do here is what allows it to touch so many lives so deeply. Ever since its beginning, the Arboretum has been a community built around caring, for this place and for everyone in it. And in today’s world, I believe that sense of care holds more importance than ever. The Arboretum is living proof of the persistence and power of caring, even in an overwhelming and disconnected world, and that should give all of us hope.
Tonight, we’re here to honor this caring community and the lives it’s changed, and to celebrate the hope and faith that it gives us. Thank you all for being here, and for being a part of this place.
Lexie and Jackie Kondel, Executive Director of Reeves-Reed Arboretum
I’m so proud to be a part of and to serve this community, and honored to have been a small part in facilitating these relationships, and witnessing the growth of those who will be taking charge of the future. To be a small part of nurturing the emotional and mental health of others, providing engagement and education of our youth and my peers and my already wise elders.
This community is why I love public horticulture.
Being here at Reeves-Reed Arboretum brings me so much joy and fulfillment. I can’t express my full gratitude for all that the community gives me for my own mental and emotional health. Many thanks to Lexie, her family, her friends, and all of the other people who are part of our community. You have my respect and love and admiration.
Deputy Director of Horticulture