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Unlock Joy: ICG’s Scholarship Ignites Hope and Opportunities for Families

At Ithaca Children’s Garden (ICG), we believe every child has the basic human right to play, learn, grow outdoors, and develop a life-long relationship with the living world. The scholarship program opens doors to these experiences in ICG’s world-class educational programs, fostering unforgettable memories and lasting impacts for families. These stories from our community highlight the profound impact these scholarships have had—not just for the children who laugh, learn, and grow in our garden but for their families, too. Discover the difference ICG has made straight from the hearts of those we serve.

How has ICG’s scholarship impacted your family?

Evelyn: “First off, it’s allowed us to attend camp. Bottom line. That’s pretty important. Without the scholarship, my children would not have been able to attend camp. We do not live in the county; we live out of state, and my family has been through a very difficult time. My children and I have been living in a very difficult situation with domestic abuse. As a single mom who is a domestic abuse survivor, I can say that resources are not always as plentiful as people might think. When a program comes through that can offer my children a sense of normalcy amidst what they have experienced, and provide an opportunity to enjoy being children and having a healthy, supportive childhood experience, it can be very impactful. Knowing they’re in a safe place also allows me to go and advocate for them in other spheres.”

Laurie: “ICG’s scholarship program made it possible for our child to go to Playful Nature, and it made us feel like we could afford something really special that otherwise would seem exclusively for those who are more financially secure. As a parent, no matter your financial situation, you always want the best for your child. It feels great to know you can afford something of such quality.”

Sarah: “It came to us at the perfect time. I was nervous about starting work and sending Sam to kindergarten during the pandemic. Knowing he could go to After School and be outside was reassuring. He started part-time, and then we shifted to full-time. Initially, I didn’t apply for a scholarship and was worried we’d have to stop because we couldn’t afford it. The following year, I was offered a scholarship and was encouraged to apply. It was incredibly helpful. As a single mom without financial support from his father, it was such a huge relief. The scholarship might not be huge, but it’s just enough to take a significant weight off my shoulders. It’s one less thing to worry about.”

Brianna: “The scholarship program has allowed our family to participate in Playful Nature Explorers. When Alfie started last January, my husband was the only one employed, working as a teacher with a modest salary. It was exciting for Alfie to participate in her first group experience, especially as she was a pandemic baby. It was a good age for her to start experiencing life outside the home, and it gave us parents a break. The scholarship has made it possible for us to continue sending her, and she is loving her time there. We would definitely be financially strained without this assistance.”

What does your child get out of participating in ICG’s program?

Evelyn: “My kids and I live in a place where there’s not a lot of nature or opportunities to just be outdoors all day. We reside in a pretty urban space, so opportunities to hike or be with animals, bugs, or flowers and appreciate the natural world are very limited. Yet, my children really thrive in that environment. The week they spend each summer at Ithaca Children’s Garden immerses them in the natural world, and that’s invaluable. Since we can’t have it every day or every week throughout the year, that one week is very precious for them.”

Laurie: “The program is really lovely because my daughter is shy and sensitive, and Kelsey, Jason, and everyone in the program are all so great with her. They helped her feel really comfortable. She’s exploring more and has positive relationships with other adults she feels safe with. And of course, being outside is awesome. If I have to work, I’m not like, ‘Oh, let me go outside with you for three hours,’ so it’s nice to know they’re outside a lot. We treasure that very much.”

Sarah: “When I pick him up after a busy day, I know that he’s played hard and been outside, rather than home, inside on a screen. Not only do I love that he has outside time, but I don’t have to feel that mom-guilt when I have to work late or run errands because he loves it there. Living downtown, that access to that space is so important to him. He tells people it’s his favorite place in all of Ithaca. On days when he doesn’t have school, he makes me take him there. When I ask him where he wants to go and what he wants to do, his response is always the same, ‘Children’s Garden obviously.’ He just loves it so much. There are just endless things to do and create there. To take that away from him – the thought – was just so sad for both of us. We knew it was not something we wanted to happen. The scholarship and the program have made such a positive impact on his life.”

Brianna: “It’s a really awesome kid experience. She was really shy or conflict avoidant, really uncomfortable with issues that came up with other kids. Once she started at the garden, she learned how to be with other kids, which is invaluable. She’s really comfortable being outside and in nature, and the opportunity to learn these skills of how to be a person in a world with other people in a context that’s comfortable for her is so awesome. She has become so aware of kids all having slightly different needs; that some people feel uncomfortable in certain situations. She’ll tell me so and so was sad and that she did this to help them feel better or that she was feeling sad and one of her garden friends helped her feel better by doing such and such. She is also learning a lot of garden-specific content from her experience at the Garden. We’ll be at home and she’ll say, ‘This is what we do with the carrots at ICG,’ or she’ll want to show me where the fennel is growing at ICG. She has a very unique and caring view of the world from farming and gardening and caring for baby chickens to taking care of each other. It’s a little world that I’m so grateful exists and that my child has daily experiences of getting dirty, having fun, and taking care of the world. She’ll say things like, ‘We can’t smoosh these bugs because they are beneficial, but these ticks, we can squish those.’ The garden is so special. I love the stories she brings home like the beads that Kelsey hides in the sandbox for the children to find or what the bees are doing. It’s a very cool place to be a kid. It’s a really good place, and we’re really lucky to have it here.”

Kara: “Elliot was a pandemic baby, so he didn’t have socialization in the first two years of his life. It was a huge step for him to be around 12 other children and feel safe around two new adults too. He really has come out of his shell; it’s really impressive. It’s only been positive for his personality to be comfortable in his own skin and with who he is. He’s becoming his own little person, and Playful Nature Explorers has really been fulfilling for him.”

Do you see ICG translating to other areas of your child’s life? If so, how?

Evelyn: “Because we’re not able to visit ICG regularly, it’s something they do once a year and they treasure the experience. They have a sense of ownership about it. When they go into their regular life, they are able to compare new experiences to their experience at the Children’s Garden which felt very natural and affirming to them. When they’re in their urban environment throughout the year, they’re able to hold on to that experience and compare the differences, and that sense of perspective gives them wisdom that is valuable. My kids are able to see the comparison because of the opportunity they have at the Children’s Garden.”

“Throughout the year, they’ll say things to me about it, like ‘remember when I did this or made this at the Children’s Garden,’ or maybe we’ll hear a news story about a butterfly or a plant, ‘I learned that at the Children’s Garden,’ and they’ll share a fact or relate an experience. It has a really strong impact on them because they remember information that was so hands-on; they’ll return to that experience and that knowledge as they’re moving through school or other activities in their day-to-day life.”

Laurie: “Having consistency with kids she sees every week is really lovely, and the love of nature, which we already are instilling her at home, the way that Kelsey & Jason talk about it, the way the program tells them to take care of the animals; the way they’re learning stuff about nature is awesome. The fact that they know the word ‘bioswale’ is already impressive. There are just things that the program is able to do to help her in a way that is consistent. For example, they see she needs to learn how to put on her own shoes better, and so they are supporting her to do that, and she is getting better at doing that. They are helping her be more independent, helping her connect with kids better and form more friendships, and the love of nature and learning about nature. Those are all things that hopefully she’ll continue in the rest of her life as she recalls her childhood of running around and looking at lizards and finding salamanders and jumping in mud.”

Brianna: “Her experience at ICG translates to other areas of her life. She has an awareness of her place in the world and in nature that is not something from her dad or me. It definitely feels Jason specific or Kelsey specific, just really sweet ways of understanding that she is a steward of the earth and she has this responsibility to help make things better. For example, she always wants to pick up garbage when she sees it. Mostly, she’s learning that she’s a person who has a responsibility for the earth. I think that’s a cool thing that Jason and Kelsey help the kids understand that they have to use their powers for good, rather than to chase the chickens or leave messes.”

Kara: “He’s definitely using vocabulary that I know we haven’t worked on, which is very exciting to see. He’s much more comfortable being outside, getting feet wet, telling stories, and relaying information and experiences about his day. They do a lot of songs and identifying things outside, and it has really translated at home, especially the days he’s not there and we do things outside or inside. It’s been a very positive influence for him. It’s only been positive.”

How did you find out about the Scholarship Program?

Brianna: “I found out about the scholarship program online. I learned that there was a food stamp rate that was within reach for our family. When we did the tour, I talked to Kelsey, and she explained the scholarship program further, emphasizing that no child would miss out because of financial circumstances. That was so cool, really very generous.”

Sarah: “I completed the application, and someone emailed me, strongly encouraging me to apply. They were so helpful and encouraging and followed up to let me know I qualified. I was really hesitant to do it, but the positive encouragement was just what I needed to take the step.”

Evelyn: “My friends and family in the area had loved sending their kids and encouraged me to look into it. Everybody that spoke about it said their kids really enjoyed it.”

Anything we can do to improve ICG’s scholarship program?

Evelyn: “Honestly, I think the scholarship program is very, very good. It’s absolutely accessible and incredibly easy to use, which is unusual for many programs. I’ve found the staff to be quickly responsive every single time when we’re working on enrollment. The whole program is organized fairly so that people can participate. We were offered scholarships within my means, and I felt like it was reasonable. It was one of the very best—if not the very best—programs I’ve worked with over these years in my situation.”

Sarah: “I completed the application, and someone emailed me, strongly encouraging me to apply. They were so helpful and encouraging and followed up to let me know I qualified. I was really hesitant to do it, but the positive encouragement was just what I needed to take the step.”

Brianna: “No. It’s so accessible. From my first experience meeting Kelsey and hearing about the program and hearing that tuition assistance is available, without the onerous process often required, so it is as painless as possible. I don’t think it can get better than it is. It was always clear. There’s no barrier to requesting or applying for it. I think ICG is making it really possible for people who need aid to get it. It seems like a pretty great system.”

Anything else?

Evelyn: “I’m so grateful for this experience. It means the world to my children, honestly. I can’t give them the upbringing that my family and I enjoyed. I can’t allow them to grow in the space that I think would be best for them, so for me as a mother, to be able to offer them that is just priceless. People who live in the area might not understand, people who can choose the resource every day might not appreciate it as much, but I want to emphasize how much it means that it is there and that it is available. It is so special that children like mine who may be in circumstances that are not ideal are able to experience that connection with nature that is really important for our future environmental generations on every level: the emotional, mental, and physical levels for the kids and the families who are involved in the scholarship program. We know our children are in safe hands, in a loving environment, and they’re going to have fun, and that they’re getting that immersion and appreciation of nature that we know is so important for their generation moving forward. I just want to express my gratitude in that way for this program and this opportunity.”

Laurie: “The most special thing for us has been being the parents of a child who is sensitive and shy and doesn’t take easily to other people, to be in the program with the care and the love and the attention to the details of their needs is really, really special. The fact that it is affordable is extremely special because you just can’t get that kind of care for this price anywhere. And the fact that they’re outside, you know everything you read is that being outside many hours a day is the best thing you can do for your child – for their eyesight, their physical health, their development overall… to be a kid who’s comfortable jumping in mud and doesn’t think of it… grab something green from the garden and eat it. That’s a gift we’re giving the kid. To be comfortable in the outdoors without having to try is really special.”

Sarah: “He works with Jason a lot, and they do a lot of planting and harvesting. He’s brought home seeds from the Children’s Garden, and we’ve planted, and we’ve had a whole summer of tomatoes that we wouldn’t have had without ICG. Jason has taught him so much. The animals too. He sits with the bunnies and is so gentle and understanding with the chickens and the bunnies. People take the time to talk him through the process of gardening and taking care of the animals. He was just last week showing his cousin how to take care of her own bunny and what to do. The bunny wasn’t friendly – by the end of the weekend, they were holding the rabbit. He was gentle and knew what to do, and I know that was from everything he learned at the Children’s Garden. He feels super special. As I mentioned, Sam’s dad isn’t around. Sam and our family went through a lot of transitions when he was in Kindergarten. I think that the staff there at that time, particularly Grace, Jason, and Trey, were providing this safe space for him. After being home for over a year during the pandemic, he needed a space outside of our home where he could grow and develop independence away from me, and they created that for him. I’ve told them how much they mean to him. He was really struggling in school. In school he wasn’t sure, in other places he had memories he wasn’t sure about and there [at the Children’s Garden] it was nothing but happiness. I can feel that energy that the staff is really trying to do there. That’s why he feels safe there.”

Brianna: “We really love the Garden.”

Kara: “It’s an amazing bridge to whatever we decide for school. I’m just really grateful for it, and I know he is too.”

Closing out the heartfelt compilation of testimonials, we at Ithaca Children’s Garden extend our sincerest gratitude to the families who shared their experiences. Your stories paint a vivid picture of the profound impact ICG’s scholarship program has on the lives of children and families. Each tale of joy, growth, and connection reinforces the transformative power of nature.

As we continue our mission to provide every child with the opportunity to play, learn, and thrive outdoors, we invite you to give to ICG’s Scholarship Fund. Together, we can unlock even more miracles and ensure that every child has access to nature’s wonders.

Thank you for being part of our community and for sharing in ICG’s vision of a world where every child blooms like the flowers in the Garden.