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on backroads, the gardens, and cleaned up goldfish in the back pond. He’s also working to regain approval to reopen Dinosaur Walk; limiting it to small, private, docent-led tours through the area for safety reasons because it’s close to a lake. “It’s a beautiful place,” he said. Respect and Freedom Something about the docents’ visible commitment and joy when they speak about Gilroy Gardens make this volunteer program stand apart. “I guess you’d have to ask the docents,” said Trenbreth. “But I think part of what makes the program so successful is the respect from the administration.” Nunes said the park gives the docent panel a $10,000 pre-approved annual budget to use for decisions about purchases and improvements. “We decide how to spend it and what to spend it on.” Becky Brondos, a docent in charge of the popular Monarch Butterfly Garden, said, “Docents drive the program.” For example, originally the park only grew milkweed— the monarch’s food source—on the out- skirts of the monarch garden. Growing milkweed inside monarch garden where the caterpillars could sit on it, and visitors could see the whole life cycle, was Brondos’ idea. Finally, Bonfante saw her vision. “The administration values what we’re bringing to the table. It made a big difference to feel like I’m being valued.” In another instance, the head gardener gave Brondos the go-ahead for a project without ever seeing the idea. “That’s the kind of thing that helps volunteer programs really thrive,” Brondos said. “Not being micromanaged. The staff seeing your worth.” Learning Triumphs While respect and autonomy in their work may keep the docents thriving, most all agree they were drawn to the program by their desire to work with children. Many are retired schoolteachers, grandparents whose children have outgrown the park, or people who simply want to pass on their own knowledge. What most didn’t expect is that they would learn as much as they’d teach. Brondos will receive her 10-year docent pin this year after retiring as a government employee from Ames Research Center. When she joined the docent program, she said, “I had no interest in the monarchs, and didn’t know a thing about it.” But then she met another docent running the program. “I liked her and started hanging out with her and helping her run the program.” Becky certainly caught the monarch fever. As she speaks about the butterflies, her voice softens like a yogi: “They’re just fascinating, the life cycle, migration, their beauty. They make people feel good. When you see a butterfly, to see them through a life cycle, to see one come out of it’s chrysalis or egg, it’s a great experience.” “…I think part of what makes the program so successful is the respect from the administration.” The kind of peer mentoring Brondos received is a common theme among the docents. Perhaps it breeds a kind of empow- erment and ownership within the program because Becky has since taught others, including Sue Johnston, about the mon- archs. In fact, that’s how docents are trained. Each year, they sign up for their areas of interest and learn new skills from other docents for helping out in other sections of the park. Because docents work with children, safety is also a primary concern. They are finger- printed and given a credit check each year, said Johnston. Docents are often responsible for teaching over 800 children per day on Natural Science days. Students travel from as far as King City and Fresno for three hours of hands-on learning in six science stations, led by docents using school- based curriculum. GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN JULY / AUGUST 2016 Johnston is Coordinator of the Food Chain presentation during Natural Science Days and also teaches classes with Bob Nunes on California Redwoods. At first, Johnston had no interest in redwoods. She thought they sounded “boring.” But another docent said, “Come let me teach you about redwoods.” Now, she’s so interested, she has a Powerpoint presentation she developed with her husband and uses for teaching. Her husband is also a docent. Johnston’s docent work has become a leaping-off point for learning everything she can about her new areas of interest. Imagine how a visit to Gilroy Gardens and an inspired docent could affect a child in much the same way. Johnston said, “The park was designed to cater to education when Michael Bonfante placed circus trees there.” She added, “To me, education never ends until the day you die. The biggest joy is to teach a kid. I say, ‘Want me to give you a 10 -second education about a redwood?’ I teach them to count the rings, and their eyes light up. And that’s the biggest joy I get: the little things that kids discover.” gmhtoday.com 75