"There's something about gardening that brings out the best in people -- everyone wants to get involved." --Nancy Wenzel
The winners of the 2013 FamilyFun/Disney Friends for Change Volunteers contest know that while volunteering is primarily about helping those in need, it has a lasting impact right at home. "It's really bonded us," says 12-year-old Emma Bushman, speaking about her family's cookie-baking efforts. "We're part of something bigger that we're all passionate about." With so many impressive projects to choose from -- building community gardens for people in need, founding a summer camp for kids who stutter -- we were grateful to partner with generation On to assist with judging. In the end, our four grand-prize winners (each received $5,000 for their charity of choice from The Walt Disney Company) and five first-prize winners (awarded $1,000 for their charities) impressed us with their creativity, dedication, and hard work. Here are their inspiring stories.
The Wenzel Family from Walla Walla, Washington
Nancy Wenzel has always had a green thumb, so when a plot of land was going unused outside her church, an idea began to germinate. Realizing that many families in their area were in need of food, Nancy, her husband, Steve, and daughters Katie, age 15, and Emma, 13, took on the task of creating a community garden.
The project grew as the Wenzels mailed flyers, applied for grants, and raised funds by working at a charity breakfast. Over six months, they built 26 raised beds, a gate, and two arbors. They joined with extended family, the Boy Scouts, and local college students to clear invasive species from a nearby streambed and replant it with native shrubs, trees, and perennials. Finally, they added walking paths and benches, creating a peaceful sanctuary. "There's just something about gardening that brings out the best in people -- everyone wants to get involved," says Nancy.
In keeping with their goal of using organic cultivation techniques, over the winter the Wenzels planted their beds with cover crops to enrich the soil. By summer, they'll have planted squash, tomatoes, peas, carrots, beets, and cabbage to feed families at four food banks. Yet the Wenzels are already reaping rewards from all their hammering and digging and weeding. "We learned new stuff as a family and got to work together," says Emma. "We're closer now."
Prize Money Plans: Assumption Church's Food Pantry Community Gardens