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South Texas Border Chapter wins award for Children’s Cancer Center Garden Project

At the state meeting and 20th anniversary celebration of the Texas Master Naturalist Program on Oct. 22, the South Texas Border Chapter won the Second Place Exemplary Project Award for a landscaping project at the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic in McAllen.

The goal of this chapter project was to provide a tranquil garden environment of native plants, hummingbirds, and butterflies at the cancer center to benefit pediatric cancer patients and their families.

Since its establishment in 2001, the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children’s Cancer and Hematology Clinic, a joint effort of the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation located in McAllen, Texas and Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston exists to provide care and treatment of the highest quality for children in south Texas who are battling childhood cancer or serious blood diseases.

As a nonprofit facility, more than 9,000 patients have come through its doors and not one has ever been turned away for inability to pay. Consequently, renewal of the center’s landscape had not been part of the facility budget, leaving its atrium gardens in need of replanting and redesign. The Foundation board of directors then reached out to the South Texas Border Chapter of Texas Master Naturalist to update the gardens with native plants. The group adopted the project that included landscape design, as well as labor and materials free of charge.

The chapter project was divided it into three phases — one for each of three atrium gardens to be replanted. Funds were raised through a public silent auction and individual donations within the chapter, as well as a monetary donation from the Rio Grande Valley Garden Club.

“For many years we have wanted to refresh and improve the atriums around the facility, but because of the great demand for the services offered at Vannie Cook and the mission of never turning a child away for inability to pay, the funds have simply not been available. STBC, their volunteers and supporters, certainly came to our assistance on a scale that we never imagined! The first phases, now complete, have attracted many butterflies and hummingbirds, which provide natural beauty to the area and a means of ‘escape and excitement’ for our patients who are undergoing long hours of chemotherapy and for their parents who are facing one of life’s most diffi cult challenges,” said Laura Martinez Ilgun, executive director of the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Cancer Foundation, Inc.

Phase One focused on the atrium outside the chemotherapy treatment area where children and families can spend many hours a day. James Shawn of Mobile Crane Services of Pharr, generously donated a large boulder and its placement for a fountain feature in the garden. Hamlin Pools donated cleaning and sealing of the massive boulder. Twenty STBC members worked approximately 550 volunteer hours repositioning the stone walkway, installing a fountain, and replanting the area with hummingbird and butterfl y-friendly native plants. The chapter also provided hummingbird feeders that patients and staff can view from the treatment area.

In Phase Two of the project, 22 STBC members worked more than 500 volunteer hours in the northwest atrium to remove old garden sheets, till compost into the soil, and replant the area with native plants. The focal point of this atrium is a Bauhinia Mexicana, a delicate white blooming tree that is a favorite of butterflies. The City of McAllen Public Works Department provided compost at a reduced charge.

Phase Three is scheduled for early 2018. It will include replanting in the third and largest atrium with native plants, as well as providing a shaded rest area with tables and benches for patient and staff use.

STBC Members are gratifi ed that the Texas Master Naturalist Program recognized their effort in this project. However, the real gratification for the group is knowing the children of the clinic, as well as its staff, can enjoy colorful gardens of native plants that attracts butterfl ies and hummingbirds throughout the year.

Public participation and monetary donations are welcomed for the third phase of the chapter project. A new training class to become a Master Naturalist will be offered in January. Contact the South Texas Border Chapter Texas Master Naturalist at contact for information.


Courtesy photo

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