Junior Woman's Club of Jefferson Twp.
Copyright 2013. Junior Woman's Club of Jefferson Township. All rights reserved.
This year’s event from the Junior Woman’s Club of Jefferson Township that fits the criteria for the “Woodrow Wilson Award” would have to be our “Robin Carlson Reading Garden”. This project truly was a labor of love and involved almost every member of the club and so many people in our community. The Reading Garden project began with our annual Wrobo Run 5K in the fall of 2011. All the funding was raised at this event. However, the actually Reading Garden and all the labor did not get underway until March of 2012. Back-up just a little…in 2010 we lost a beloved teacher “Robin Carlson” who worked at one of our schools in Jefferson Township as a reading/special resource teacher. So many people were heartbroken over her death including many Jefferson Juniors. Robin taught and helped so many children in our community that we had this great need to give back, but to also produce something that would keep on giving to the community, as Robin would have if she were still alive. That is when something in her honor was dreamt up….and she was chosen as our cause for the 2011 Wrobo Run. And the idea of a Reading Garden came to be. Our Wrobo Run was a success and the profit we raised, around $9,000, was enough to make our Reading Garden a reality. We decided that the Garden, which is a tranquil and beautiful park, would be named in Robin Carlson’s honor, but it would also serve to honor all of the teachers in our community. Our Garden committee started brainstorming in the fall of 2011, but the real work began in the winter months of 2012. We had to get involved with our town management officials to work out all the details. Land was secured and donated to us by the township, a local architect donated the building plans, and we contracted a local landscaper to make our paper garden a reality. Ground was broken in early March and work continued through the end of May. All this time, Jefferson Juniors were overseeing the progress and starting to plan how to present this beautiful space to our town. Teachers from the schools wanted to be involved and they helped raise money by selling custom t-shirts. The shirts were orange, Robin’s favorite color, with wording that said “I’m Good”. “I’m Good” were words that Robin spoke often and she said them to many people, including her students, the whole time that she battled cancer. It really meant a lot for the teachers to contribute in their own special way, to honor their friend and beloved co-worker. Juniors attended town council meetings to give updates on our progress, especially since our Garden was located on our municipal complex grounds. Our mayor donated labor of grounds people and some excavating help was given to defray cost of our landscaper. As the Garden was nearing completion, in late April plans started to be developed for a ribbon cutting ceremony. We involved our Mayor, Town Council, Town Recreation Department, library, schools, principals, teachers, a local Girl Scout troop, and especially Robin’s Family. The mayor’s office donated a plaque that we were able to inscribe with some heartfelt wording and permanently affix to the stone wall of the garden. The plaque is located near a frog sculpture. Frogs were Robin’s favorite little creature, besides children, of course. The landscaper was truly generous and donated so much more time and supplies than the $9,000 we paid him. He donated trees, bushes, flowers, and two signs for the arbor at the entrance. At the entrance to the Reading Garden there is a sign that reads, “Welcome to the Robin Carlson Reading Garden”. Exiting the Reading Garden, the sign on the arbor reads, “Thanks for visiting….Junior Woman’s Club of Jefferson Township”. The landscaper’s daughter donated a post from a Girl Scout camp that had the word “Peace” written in 4 languages on it. This post stands proud in our Garden today. Also donated by the landscaper was our centerpiece…a beautiful sun dial. Our library got involved and donated two azaleas for the entrance. The librarians welcome this new park space. Since the library is in the same complex as the Reading Garden, the librarians plan to use the space over the summer for some of their events, such as outdoor story time. Cadette Girl Scout Troop #80669 got involved and made supporting the Reading Garden and children’s literacy the their Silver Award project. They raised money, solicited for donations from our local hardware store, and built a beautiful wooden park bench for the Garden. They also hosted a garage sale and the profit was used to buy over 300 plants that they planted for the ribbon cutting ceremony. The Girl Scouts also weeded the flower beds, transplanted 8 Rose of Sharon trees, 50 irises in different colors, and 6 lambs ears plants from a former Junior’s perennial garden. These amazing girl scouts also held a book drive in each school in our town and collected over 1000 books to be redistributed to any and all who attended the ribbon cutting ceremony. Children, teens, parents, grandparents, and teachers all took books. As Mrs. Carlson taught children how to read and was an advocate for literacy, so did the girl scouts want to carry on this quest. On the actual day of the ribbon cutting the scouts dedicated their bench to the Garden and held story time for all the little kids. The left over books were offered to “Reach Out and Read New Jersey” who in turn connected the scouts with the Zufall Health Clinic in Dover, NJ, and many books were delivered. The girls also gave first time Jefferson teachers a jump start on their classroom libraries. And, four local pre-schools in our town got some books too. The girls are not done with their Silver Award as they are currently working on funds to build another bench for the Garden. They have completed painting birdhouses to place in the Garden this spring. (On a side note…the 300 flowers the girls planted before the grand opening were eaten by a slug population never seen before…overnight those crazy slugs ate every flower. On the morning of the event we all brought our own potted plants to decorate with…but it can’t all go off without a hitch and a few bumps in the road keep you on your toes!) Since Robin Carlson was a local elementary school teacher, we really wanted to have students involved in the grand opening of the Reading Garden. We worked with the principal of Robin’s school and got every child involved by having them help us make a handprint garland to decorate the Garden for the big event. We created handprints on paper and distributed enough for each class to each teacher in the school. The teachers worked with their classes to decorate their handprint. They colored or wrote on their handprints with personal messages, famous quotes, awesome pictures and designs. We collected 400 handprints, punched holes in each one, and hung them like garland from the entrance wall of the garden. They were all so unique and colorful. It was like a big hug from the students around Robin’s Garden. Another way we involved students was by inviting the music teacher from Robin’s school to sing with her choir. Over 20 children attended and sang a beautiful rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” to the audience. There were many tears on that day, but they really flowed when kids sang this song. A few of the children in attendance read essays they wrote about Mrs. Carlson. Through a press release in our local paper, Robin’s former students learned that they had an opportunity to honor her with written essay and presentations at the opening ceremony. The Juniors made over 300 flower cupcakes for the grand opening and decorated them at one of our members houses. We used paper flowers and lollipops to make each cupcake look like a flower. We also served lemonade to our many guests. We made bookmarks for all in attendance out of recycled paper that was embedded with flower seeds. The bookmark, after being used in your favorite book, could be buried in your garden and produce flowers, which was just another way to tie the garden theme and the reading theme to almost everything we did. Lastly, in accordance with our garden theme, we decided to have a ladybug release at the ribbon cutting ceremony. We ordered our ladybugs in time to arrive so we would have an opportunity to package them up for sale on day of ceremony. They arrived and all but a few were deceased. We scrambled for two days before the event to find a local place that sold ladybugs. We were so desperate that we actually considered releasing crickets because we knew we could buy them at our local PetSmart (can you imagine the screams when they landed on people). At the last minute one of our husbands found a location and purchased 1000 ladybugs for us. Unfortunately we had only the night before to package them. A junior and her husband sat by candlelight (ladybugs are more dossal when it’s dark) scooped ladybugs and poked holes in hundreds of plastic containers while ladybugs flew around their house. We sold them on event day and raised over a $100 to be put back into the Garden. The actual Ribbon Cutting Ceremony day went off without a hitch. We had beautiful weather. Almost every Jefferson Junior was in attendance along with approximately 150 more people from our community including many teachers, students and Robin’s Family, Town Council Members, Members of our Board of Education and the local newspaper. A Junior’s three daughters sang a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem. Many people spoke, the president of our club was master of ceremonies, the choir sang, and Robin’s parents help cut the ribbon. At last, the Garden was open to the public and it was truly a proud day for Jefferson Juniors! This once wooded property was transformed into a beautiful park with stone walls and wooden arbors, paver walkways, tables, benches, trees, shrubs, and flower beds. It is a place where our community can sit with a child and read a book. Where people can relax and enjoy the beautiful nature that Jefferson Township has to offer. The Reading Garden is located next to the Creative Playground and it is a great place for parents to relax while their children run free in the playground. There are many uses for this public space and it is our true wish that the community uses it and enjoys it for years to come. It was and is our intention to continue to help maintain this public space as it is now a permanent fixture in our community, built by Juniors, honoring our teachers, and open to everyone.