Letter to the editor: Collaboration brewing at Botanic Garden


Something special is brewing at the San Diego Botanic Garden: new patio space and partnerships that provide coffee service and hands-on experience for people who wish to enter the workforce.

We celebrated all of this during grand opening ceremonies last week.

I was delighted to join folks from the garden and from Employment & Community Options, a local nonprofit serving low-income adults with developmental disabilities.

We gathered on the remodeled patio, which sits among succulents, palms, sculptures and the flowing branches of a Kashmir cypress. The outdoor area includes new tables and umbrellas and space for a coffee stand.

One of the workers stationed behind that stand is John Hiatt of Vista. John is a client of Employment & Community Options. He attends Palomar College and says he hopes to transfer to CSU Long Beach to study journalism.

“It’s very nice to have a job,” John said. “This gets me on my feet.”

It also gets him talking. Conversation skills are important, he said, especially for journalists. Nodding his head in agreement is Ryan White, senior program manager for Employment & Community Options.

Ryan said that for many years, volunteer teams from Employment & Community Options have performed light maintenance at the garden as a way to acquire job skills. The new barista positions pay more than minimum wage, he said, and provide the kind of training that can lead to finding a better job or even opening a business.

Employment & Community Options serves a wide range of adult clients diagnosed with autism, cerebral palsy and other intellectual disabilities.

“Our goal is to integrate our clients into the community,” said CEO Nancy Batterman. “Something like this (coffee stand) is really ideal for that.”

As I prepared to snip a red ribbon with Nancy and Julian Duval, president and CEO of the garden, one word kept coming up: collaboration.

During my remarks, I mentioned that as the property owner, the County of San Diego wants to be an active partner to make the garden even more successful. Nearly 230,000 people visit the garden every year.

Collaboration, I said, is what this county is all about.

“We’re very excited about this partnership,” Nancy said.

In his remarks, Julian spoke to the growing body of scientific evidence that confirms the mental and physical benefits of contact with nature.

“It’s a healing environment at the garden,” Julian said.

I agree. That’s why I am so pleased that the Board of Supervisors approved my recommendation to support the patio improvements with a $20,000 Neighborhood Reinvestment Program grant.

Improvements at the botanic garden will keep coming as Julian, his board members and I discuss continued collaboration.

-Dave Roberts

Dave Roberts represents the Third District on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.