Despite the snowing, Empowering Gardens keeps growing

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

I can remember when April showers came in liquid form. I'm not a horticulturist but suspect that April's blizzards and snow showers are not bringing May flowers. Rather than cursing the cold, the folks at Empowering Gardens Inc. (EGI) held a heartwarming event to raise funds for the nonprofit. 

Marissa Gott and her friend, Caitlin Coan, spearheaded the April 7 gathering at Goldyburgers. Though they don't work for EGI, they jointly celebrated their birthdays to draw family and friends to the fundraiser. It was a rousing success, generating $5,000 toward EGI's goal of building a year-round greenhouse.

Last year, Marissa used her 30th birthday to raise money for the cause. By joining forces with Caitlin, they doubled the number of supporters. About 150 guests came to party at the tavern. They traveled from as far away as Indiana and Michigan. Kids played with chalk and bubbles and bashed a piñata on the patio. Adults savored the donated food and drinks. 

Old School provided pulled pork and mac 'n' cheese. Jimmy Johns chipped in with sandwiches. Waldo Cooney's dished out pizza. Lagunitas, Revolution and Miller Coors came up with the free suds. The birthday girls even designed a special drink for the occasion: "The Intention" combined Tito's vodka, kombucha tea and agave nectar. Marissa estimated they collected $4,000 worth of donated goods.

These gifts didn't magically materialize. Marissa began contacting sponsors in November 2017. She is not shy about asking companies for support, and her appeal comes from the heart. Besides the generosity of these businesses, EGI received a boost when Goldyburgers' owner, Mike Sullivan, agreed to host the event for free. Mike is a lifelong friend of EGI's co-founder, Rich Biggins. 

Rich, Ana Solares, and the EGI staff started working in the morning to make Goldyburgers festive. The event was intended to raise funds and awareness. They placed cards and fliers everywhere. Guests turned into customers and donors. 

Apart from the fun and food, there was an underlying spirit of contributing to a great cause. Caitlin is a more recent convert than Marissa. The two met while teaching at Ahimsa Yoga Studio. Marissa told Caitlin how EGI employed adults with a wide range of mental disabilities. She inspired her new friend to take part in something bigger than herself. What really sealed the deal for Caitlin was co-teaching a yoga workshop, on "Giving Tuesday," at EGI's winter store. 

The space at 7415 Madison was generously donated by Art Sundry. Marissa is also thankful for how the folks at EGI made her feel at home when she moved to Forest Park. The staff members were welcoming and knowledgeable and they became like family. In fact, she believes she landed in Forest Park for the purpose of helping EGI grow. 

For Caitlin, working on behalf of EGI has been a breath of fresh air. It's the kind of work that doesn't pay her bills but nourishes her soul. Marissa and Caitlin have created a community of like-minded people, who are invested in keeping EGI's doors open and the plants growing. EGI doesn't just empower staff members, it's empowering a network of supporters who believe in EGI's mission. 

These fans, and just regular folk, are encouraged to come to EGI's Spring Open House on April 21 at 7730 W. Madison. Besides purchasing plants and flowers, customers will receive free seedlings and lessons about vegetable gardening. EGI needs all the help it can get to purchase property and put up a permanent greenhouse. 

As for the weather, it should stop snowing by April 21.

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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Michael Roberts from Oak Park   

Posted: April 16th, 2018 11:31 PM

John - Thank you for covering EGI! They have a great cause and are making a difference. And what a GREAT business they have. I am an avid gardener and have not strayed from EGI in the past two years. Why? - Ana and her knowledge & formal education is something you won't find at a big box store. Advice is free - so buy what she recommends - VERY healthy plants and flowers. They tend to them like they were gold. - The staff are always helpful and friendly (including Richard - :) ) I am very proud of them. Thank you again for getting the word out! Michael

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