CHATHAM–The Chatham Children’s Garden program at Crellin Park put out a call last week for $10,000 before May 31 or the program will have to close. Program Director Cait Denny started a fundraiser on the site Indiegogo, saying that “The Chatham Children’s Garden offered summer garden programs to more than 75 kids in 2017. Without funding we will no longer offer these programs.”
In an interview with the Columbia Paper on Wednesday, May 30, Ms. Denny said she might extend the fundraiser another week but that she cannot run the morning gardening program during the Crellin Park summer camp program without the funding. And if she does not raise all of the $10,000 requested on Indiegogo, the program won’t get any of the money. She said that she is also looking into grants and other funding to keep the morning program going.
The program needs the funds to cover the cost of insurance and labor. Ms. Denny said she needs to hire more people to help keep the program going. “I can’t do it all myself,” she said of the program. Tuition, which is $50, does not cover all the costs.
The Children’s Garden Program is separate from the town summer camp, though campers can attend the program. And Ms. Denny said that her $1-a-year lease with the Town of Chatham to use a half acre of land in the park stipulates that she run the garden program during the camp schedule. Campers who use the garden program pay for it separately from camp tuition; children not at camp can also attend the garden program, which takes place during the mornings during the six-week town camp program.
Ms. Denny called the program “very popular” and said she often has to turn away younger applicants. There is a Tuesday/Thursday program for school-age to 8-year-olds and a Monday, Wednesday, Friday program for 9 to 12-year-olds. She said she tries to “keep group size small.”
She’s been running the program for five years and estimates that it’s been around since 2002. When she started there were 12 kids in the program and now it has expanded to 50. The program also offers week-long programs in late June and in late August after town camp is over. She said those programs are better at sustaining themselves but that if she can’t do the camp program she will not be meeting the agreement in her lease with the town, so she can’t do other programs at Crellin Park.
In January of 2017 Ms. Denny attended a Town Board meeting to talk about leasing the half-acre in the park. At that time the program was growing out of the space it already used and she told the board that she would fund the program through tuition and grants as well as donations. She also said at the time that she was working on getting a not-for-profit tax status and a board of directors. That February the board agreed to the lease.
Ms. Denny said this week that she’s still working on her 501(c)(3) non-profit status but she has a small board of directors and after the call for funding, more people have volunteered for the board.
One garden supporter, Jennifer Ose-MacDonald of Kinderhook, emailed the paper saying, “As an agricultural community it would dishonor our local heritage to allow this program to close. Children should be provided with ample opportunities to connect with their food sources, learn how to take care of the soil, to respect the hard work that goes into farming and the many rewards locally grown food provides to all of us.”
On the fundraising website, Ms. Denny wrote, “The development of the new space has been costly and yet we’ve seen a significant decrease in monetary contributions as our insurance and labor costs have increased. Registration for our summer morning program is scripted to be held June 5, however, we do not have the money to run the program at this time. The price tag of the program is nearly $10,000 when insurance, salaries, and supplies are factored in.”
As for May 30 the Indiegogo site said they’d raised $3,505 toward the program’s $10,000 goal. Ms. Denny said that people could also donate through the Crellin Park Foundation. Information about that foundation is at http://crellinpark.org.
The program has had to make cuts before. In 2016, Town Clerk and Crellin Park Foundation member Beth Anne Rippel said at a board meeting that the program’s grant money was cut and that the program was $1,500 short for that summer. The program did go forward at that time with less pay for the program director.
Ms. Denny stressed that the program did raise tuition recently. She also has a sliding scale to help families. On the fundraising site she wrote, “The majority of families at the garden cannot afford the full price of camp. The fees we bring in from registration are small and will total less than $2,500. We’ve been running in the red since last year, so we need every cent to get us through the summer.”
“I’m feeling optimistic,” Ms. Denny said this week, though she needs to raise the money by June 5 to run the program. “We really do need that money.”
For more about the program go to www.facebook.com/Chathamchildrensgarden. The fundraiser is at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/save-the-chatham-children-s-garden-kids#/.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email email@example.com