Boys & Girls clubs, Visible Men Academy, Girl Scouts, Girls Inc., Unidos Now and others are involved in new program

Selby Botanical Gardens announced Thursday that it will reach out to underserved youths and families in a new program called “My Garden.”

A grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation will allow Selby to work with local organizations such as Girls Inc., Unidos Now and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County, along with the Taylor Community Center, Girls Scouts of Gulfcoast Florida and the Visible Men Academy of Manatee County.

In the first year of “My Garden,” 250 families from these groups will receive yearlong garden memberships valued at $150.

“This is really a jumping-off point that we’re excited to grow from,” says Jennifer Rominiecki, president and CEO of Selby Gardens. “The idea here is that with a new master plan for Selby Gardens, we’ll have more capacity, and we can accommodate more families.”

At the Visible Men Academy, students already enjoy cultural programs with museums such as The Ringling and theaters such as the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe. Now, many children and families will get to experience the famous botanical gardens on the Sarasota bayfront.

“This is new to us,” said Louis Park, one of the founders of the Bradenton school. “We announced it at our back-to-school night last week.”

Visible Men already has one horticulture program. Like Selby, it grows some of its own fruit and vegetables.

“We do have a garden program on our campus,” Park said. “Last year, in March, we had broccoli, lemons and collard greens.”

The “My Garden” memberships at Selby will include free admission 364 days a year for up to six adults and a child. The membership will automatically renew for families who visit the gardens four or more times during the year.

The membership program stems from an earlier outreach effort called the Family Together Program, which invited vulnerable children and their parents to special events such as Lights in Bloom and the Selby Spooktacular for Halloween. More than 1,000 youths and families have visited the gardens over the last two years.

Sara Bealor, director of communication for the Boys & Girls Club, said her organization already works with Selby on an environmental summer camp called Project Nature Bridge. A teenager from the club’s leadership training program serves on the Selby board. Now club families will become more involved with Selby.

“A mother of a club member at the Newtown Boys & Girls Club said, ‘Not only does this membership give our family access to a beautiful botanical garden, but it’s also a way for us to bond as a family and really connect with and learn about nature,’” Bealor said. “‘My children love all things outdoors. They’re fascinated by plants, trees and everything Selby Gardens has to offer.’”

For financial support with “My Garden,” Selby turned to another partner in Sarasota.

“The Gulf Coast Community Foundation is proud to provide funding for Selby Gardens’ ‘My Garden’ initiative,” Mark Pritchett, foundation president and CEO, said in a statement. “By connecting underserved youth and families to nature, these children can develop an appreciation for the plants in our region and realize the powerful benefits of nature to not only their day-to-day lives but to our world.”

Museums, aquariums and gardens across the country are trying to extend their reach and build relationships with families that haven't been part of their core audience. Scholarships and membership programs are a step in that direction.

“We want families to feel ownership,” Rominiecki says. “We want families to feel like they’re part of the gardens.”