Flower Friends

Rose garden volunteers set their own schedules

By Cecily Hastings
May 2020

Nonprofit organizations suffered this spring when social-distancing orders due to COVID-19 gradually closed up most volunteer positions. For the McKinley Rose Garden, run by nonprofit Friends of East Sacramento, the timing couldn’t have been worse.

“Our volunteers start up at the end of April and continue throughout the year until the New Year,” says Nisa Hayden, who started her position as garden manager and volunteer coordinator in late March. “But flowers are dictated by nature, and the beautiful spring weather and generous fertilizing all winter have brought glorious blooming to our 1,200 rose bushes.”

In previous years, FOES has hosted a volunteer orientation and workday the first weekend of May to kick off the season. It normally attracts close to 100 new and former volunteers. The timing is designed to be just perfect as the most prolific rose blooms of the year are on full display.

“Without immediate deadheading, the roses will not be able to bloom again as easily or as plentifully,” Hayden says. With a big group event no longer possible, the nonprofit decided to schedule smaller training sessions where new volunteers can get their hour-long orientation before they work independently. “We will maintain all social-distancing practices in effect at the time to keep people safe,” Hayden notes.

While coordinating hundreds of volunteers every year has been a big part of the rose garden job, FOES co-founder Lisa Schmidt says the group recently introduced new communication tools to work with volunteers. “We now have an e-newsletter, and are using the VOMO platform for larger events, when, of course, we are able to have them once again,” Schmidt says. She adds that a member of the Fremont Presbyterian Church recommended the platform after using it successfully at the church this winter. Fremont employs hundreds of volunteers each week, both on campus and at work in the community.

VOMO is an online platform that allows nonprofits to create their own custom volunteer page. It also allows volunteers to sign up for specific workdays and times, and sends email and text reminders.

The garden’s service program uses volunteers in various ways. “We have individuals who, once trained, work on their own schedule to deadhead roses or simply weed. These folks enjoy their autonomy and ability to set their own schedule,” Hayden says. Schmidt says volunteers have reported that the beautiful garden setting and flexible scheduling make it the “best volunteer job ever.”

“In addition, we also have organized workdays both for groups of neighbors and groups that come from businesses, service groups, schools and churches,” Hayden says. Schmidt says in recent years the Bayside Church, in particular, has provided a hardworking group of dedicated volunteers who have worked hundreds of hours. “But there are also lots of other groups, small and large, that help our nonprofit keep the garden in beautiful shape,” she adds.

The nonprofit faces additional struggles this year as spring and summer event rentals, which fund the care of the garden, have all been canceled. “Sadly, most of our events take place in this season,” Schmidt says. “It was heartbreaking sending back more than $50,000 of rental deposits, which is our sole income stream for Clunie and the rose garden, and at the same time thinking about all the joyful events that have to be placed on hold.” The small volunteer-led nonprofit, like so many others, is trying to find a fiscal path forward to continue its garden and community center stewardship.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities, sign up for the e-newsletter by emailing mckinleyrosegarden@gmail.com. To register for McKinley Rose Garden events visit vomo.org/project/5e6139cbeaffe. Introductory information to read before training is also provided on the VOMO page. Donations to help fund the garden can be made at friendsofeastsac.org.

Cecily Hastings can be reached at publisher@insidepublications.com. She is the co-founder of the Friends of East Sacramento, a nonprofit that renovated and has managed the McKinley Rose Garden and Clunie Community Center since 2012.


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