Messages of compassion presented through colorful floral bouquets and bright smiles are among the many ways that a distinctive Dream Foundation program called Flower Empower lets locals know that the community cares.
Since 1994, a group of volunteers has gathered each Saturday at the downtown Santa Barbara Farmers Market, 232 Anacapa St., to skillfully prepare an average of 75 to 100 bouquets using donated flowers from local growers.
The efforts of this volunteer-driven program have resulted in more than 25,000 flower deliveries that have brightened the spirits of many people in need of empathy and hope.
“It makes me feel great and gives me a purpose,” said volunteer Boris Palencia. “It’s a great way to start the weekend off. When you wake up early on Saturday morning and you’ve made a difference in someone’s life, it’s really special.”
Although national in its reach, this program is unique to the Dream Foundation’s hometown of Santa Barbara. The result is a robust distribution of flowers to hospitals, hospice facilities, cancer centers and personal residences.
The floral bundles are packaged for deliveries to people who are facing difficult situations, including serious illness, hardships, grief, setbacks or even recovery.
“Delivering flowers brings joy to others as well as to me,” said longtime Flower Empower volunteer Kathy Henry.
Included with each bouquet are freshly baked homemade cookies donated by a local family, with even more sweetness added in the form of chocolates donated by a local business.
These wonderful bursts of visual joy and flavor are also combined with handmade cards created by local youth that help instill in children the importance of giving back.
Youths involved in community organizations and representing schools — such as National Charity League, Montecito Union School, Mountain View School and the Montecito Family YMCA — share in the unique impact of this wonderful program.
Additionally, located at the Farmers Market booth each week is a table with craft items set up for youths to creatively add their daily inspirations by making handmade cards to include in the bouquets.
“Making cards for Flower Empower recipients, even at the pre-school level, teaches our children that the power of their creativity, love and support is far-reaching,” said Samantha Goldstone, an active supporter who has helped with the card-making program. “They are able to brighten someone’s day doing what they love. It’s a win-win.”
Referrals from nurses, doctors, hospice and people within the community provide the list of recipients who receive the healing power of these deliveries. Some recipients get them on a weekly basis for as long as they remain in need.
The backbone of support for the Flower Empower program exists because of the generosity of local businesses and their donations, including B&H Flowers, Botanik, Chocolats du CaliBressan, Domingo Farms, Ever-Bloom, Florabundance, the Himovitz Family, Maximum Nursery, Myriad Flowers, Trader Joe’s Milpas, Valley Flowers Inc., Westerlay Orchids and Westland Floral.
“On Friday morning I pick up the flowers from all the local growers in Carpinteria and then on Saturday morning we come here to the Farmers Market,” explained Flower Empower coordinator Valerie Banks. “And we have cookies that are made by a lady who lives in Montecito who has been doing it for over 12 years.”
In addition to these generous supporters who provide flowers, cookies and chocolates each week, the Flower Empower program holds an annual fundraiser, with this year’s scheduled for Wednesday.
The Second Annual Flower Empower Luncheon will be held 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday in the beautiful garden at Robin and Roger Himovitz’s George Washington Smith estate in Montecito.
Honorees for this year’s event include the 2011-2012 Flower Empower program sponsors, Ivana and Andrew Firestone, Angie Redding, and Annette and Harold Simmons.
A delicious lunch of chicken, salmon or a vegetarian option will accompany a beautiful afternoon for all the senses.
Admission to the luncheon is $75 per ticket, plus a $20 raffle prize is available with two nights stay midweek at the Ojai Valley Inn with lunch and spa treatments.
Event chairwomen for the luncheon are Lynette Hall and Shelley Schulte, with event committee members Valerie Banks, Jodie Fishman-Osti, Robin Himovitz, Amie Parish and Alan Rose.
The impact of this heartfelt support from volunteers and employees who assemble the flowers and coordinate the gifts and deliveries is exemplified in an excerpt of a poem written by a Flower Empower recipient named Erica.
Flowers paint themselves in my mind.
Tall on their stems, they hold each other.
They take care of each other,
they share each other’s colors.
This spirit of sharing and caring is evident not only in the faces of the recipients but in the smiles of the volunteers who arrange the bouquets, deliver the gifts and craft the cards.
“Flower Empower inspires my daughter and her friends at a young impressionable age,” said Jodi Fishman, a local mom and facilitator of the card-making program. “She has the opportunity to see firsthand what charity really means. Alexa has delivered the bouquet of flowers, cookies and cards to patients around town, and after doing so she felt a sense of happiness as she saw the huge smile on the patients face!”
The long-term hope of the Dream Foundation is that volunteers from across the country will establish similar Flower Empower programs within their own communities by “spreading hope across the nation‚ one flower at a time.”
And, yet, it’s the combined efforts of the whole Santa Barbara spirit that drives the success of the Flower Empower program and grounds the mission of the Dream Foundation itself.
“Our dream program serves the national community, yet we couldn’t do what we do without support from our hometown friends and supporters,” said Dream Foundation communications director Erinn Lynch. “Flower Empower is a way for the local community to take care of each other. It’s a way for Dream Foundation to stay grounded in the origin of our service and rooted in our gratitude toward our Santa Barbara dream family.”
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