Recently, the American Red Cross South Florida Region, through its Veteran Victory Corps program, hosted local veterans at the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens who enjoyed a tour of the gardens, learned about horticulture and experienced hands-on gardening by up-potting plants to take home.
After the tour, Lee Vickstrom, a Marine Corps veteran, said, “This is fantastic because not only do you get the knowledge, but you get hands-on and you get to see it for yourself instead of just hearing about it.”
The Veteran Victory Corps is a program of the Red Cross’ Service to the Armed Forces here in South Florida that was developed by Judy Nash-Wade in partnership with the Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens and the Port St. Lucie Master Gardeners. The program is for veterans and their family members to learn about horticulture and gardening, and to enjoy camaraderie and service to their community.
Judy Nash-Wade is a certified Master Gardener and the Volunteer Leadership Partner for Heidi O’Sheehan, Service to the Armed Forces Director in the South Florida Region. Judy says she was “born, bred and wed” into the military and that as a Master Gardener, this program just clicked together.
She brainstormed with many veterans to come up with the name for the new program when she launched it in 2017. It was important for them to have the word ‘victory’ in the title, so after much thoughful consideration they came up with Veteran Victory Corps. Together, they completed their first service project – the flag pole area at the entrance to the Botanical Gardens. They renovated the area and planted red, white and blue flowers for patriotic pride around the American flag.
The program has had a positive impact on local veterans by allowing them to reconnect with themselves, their families and the community. Service is ingrained in many veterans and they want to continue serving. Volunteering meets this need while connecting them to nature, which has its own benefits. They have an opportunity to use their many skills and learn new gardening skills. It is this camaraderie and service that promotes resiliency in veterans, helping them to integrate back into civilian life with their family and community.
The Corps meets at the Botanical Gardens on the fourth Saturday of the month from October through May at 9 a.m. To get involved with this wonderful program or schedule a group tour, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Judith Buckland
Video by Estefania Garcia