Sunday, February 25 , 2018, 11:48 am | Fair 60º


Halloween Party Helps Bring Volunteers Back to Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

This Halloween, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden will wrap up the Community Gifts portion of its multiyear comprehensive Seed the Future campaign.

Jim and Kathie McClure dressed as hippies for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden director’s Halloween party in 2009.

The fundraising team for Community Gifts consists mostly of volunteer docents, with no fundraising experience, many of whom had once been part of a volunteer strike at the garden. But today, they are just a few thousand dollars away from reaching their goal of raising $100,000 in small gifts from the community and winning a matching gift from the Mericos Foundation.

At least one of these volunteers counts a Halloween party three years ago as part of her journey back to the heart of the garden.

Kathie McClure, a retired school teacher, has been a docent at the garden for 23 years. But in the spring of 2009, she joined other volunteers in a strike to force some action on the many issues threatening the future of the garden. By late summer, the board took a new direction and requested that the volunteers, including McClure, be involved in the selection of a new executive director. When Steve Windhager was chosen, most of the volunteers began to trickle back.

“We had cautious hopes for a new direction, but had yet to see it in action,” McClure said. “When Steve invited everyone — every single volunteer, staff person, trustee, donor, everyone — to his house for a Halloween party that year, I was stunned. In nearly 20 years volunteering, I had never been invited to the director’s house, or to anything with staff and trustees. My husband and I were dressed as hippies, with crazy wild wigs. As I stood there sharing a peace sign with a staff person, I just knew everything was going to be OK.”

McClure still gives school tours as a docent, and for the past nine months has also worked on the Community Gifts Committee with a team of other docents and volunteers to raise money for Seed the Future.

“Of course, as a teacher, I believe in giving children a good future," she said, "hopefully one that is full of the beauty and diversity of the native plants that we have in the garden."

But McClure admits that support of the mission of the garden would probably not have been enough to get her involved in fundraising.

“It was more about family,” she says, “and maybe a few painkillers.”

McClure recalls that she had been on bed rest with pain medication due to a water skiing accident when Seed the Future Community Gifts chairwoman Carolyn Kincaid Henderson called and asked her to join the team.

“I am not sure I even knew what team I was joining, but I knew I wanted to work with Carolyn and the other great volunteers from the garden,” McClure said.

With just two weeks to go, the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden is over 83 percent of the way toward reaching its goal for the Community Gifts Challenge matching gift from the Mericos Foundation. The Community Gifts Challenge is the final phase of a three-year, $14 million fundraising campaign that will allow the garden to rebuild from the Jesusita Fire. Funds will be used to build a conservation center, plant new gardens and create exhibit areas to enhance the garden's ability to foster a love of California native plants through conservation, research and education.

This Halloween, McClure and her husband will be back at Windhager’s house for the annual costume party. She won’t say what this year’s costume will be, but she does hope to be celebrating success in her first fundraising campaign.

“Every donation I bring in makes me happy we never gave up on the garden and that I am part of making this beautiful place and beautiful family of support even brighter,” she said.

You can help McClure meet the goal before Halloween by showing your support with a donation of any amount by clicking here.

— Rebecca Mordini is the communications coordinator for the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden.

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