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Volunteer Spotlight Series: Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Cindy Walkenbach, Volunteer Awardee, Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden

Please give a brief explanation of what you do at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.

I’m President of the two hundred-member RSABG Volunteer Organization and a member of the Garden’s Board of Overseers. My regular volunteer assignment is as a Nature Interpreter (docent) leading tours for elementary students and adults and supporting a wide variety of community and educational events.

When and why did you first get involved with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden?

I began volunteering on a limited basis in 2009 and became a regular volunteer in 2011 upon completion of the required Garden training. I love nature and being outdoors and always knew that once I retired, I’d want to volunteer here.

What motivates you to stay involved at Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden?

I thoroughly enjoy the interaction of introducing children and adults to the native plants and animals that are part of our California heritage. I also appreciate the camaraderie of the wonderful people who volunteer and work at the Garden: well-educated, committed, passionate folks who love the natural world and strive daily to preserve it.

What is your favorite memory of volunteering with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden?

Several years ago I lead a tour of second graders from a local Title I school, and it was apparent that most children had not been in a natural setting like the Garden provides. I remember one little girl in particular whose excitement was palpable. At the end of the tour when asked what she had learned, she threw up her arms with great enthusiasm and exclaimed, “I just LOVE NATURE!” I think of her each time I lead a tour.

What has surprised you most about working with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden? What do you wish other people knew about Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden?

The diversity of the Garden’s activities is amazing, but prior to volunteering, I simply knew it as a lovely, peaceful place to walk. What it really is, however, is a fabulous 86-acre outdoor “museum” devoted to preserving California’s native plants which represent 25% of all U.S. flora. It houses the botany graduate program for Claremont Graduate University and is a major plant research center with an extensive library. Its conservation and restoration programs operate a seed bank, cultivate native plants for areas devastated by natural disasters, and it houses the tenth largest herbarium in the U.S. with over 1.2 million species. In recent years, it has developed a retail nursery of native plants and has become a lovely venue for weddings and special events.

What would you tell someone who is interested in volunteering with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden?

The opportunities here are countless and appeal to many interests. One can cashier in the gift shop, pull weeds and tend plants, quietly catalogue in the research library, or create lovely bouquets for events as a member of the Native Design team. One can use skills acquired over years of working or try totally new things to do. Volunteers can commit to regular assignments like becoming docents or simply help out occasionally for events and projects. What is truly special are the friendships formed among volunteers and with very appreciative Garden leaders and staffers whose gratitude for the volunteers is demonstrated often. A sense of “team” pervades the organization and the common thread that links us all is our collective commitment to protect, preserve, and educate our community about California’s amazing native flora.

For more information about volunteering with Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden, please visit



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