Ode to a Volunteer
By David Austin, Residential Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Volunteer Coordinator, UF/IFAS Highlands County
Charlie Reynolds has been a Highlands County Master Gardener for 12 years. In the five years that I have worked with him, Charlie never told me no. He never waited for me to give him directions on what to do, either. He jumped in when a local Housing Authority needed help with their community garden. He visited that garden weekly and worked with the tenants. He started his Dream Chaser’s 4-H club before I even caught wind of the idea. They were comprised of underprivileged kids from that same housing development’s community garden.
Charlie struck up a friendship with Tommy Sauls, the local guard at the Avon Park Correctional Institution who was in charge of the State Prison’s Ornamental Plant Nursery. Together they forged a path for the inmates to be trained in FNGLA (Florida Nursery, Growers & Landscape Association) certification and agriculture pesticide applicator training. He drove 30 miles each way once a week for nearly two years. The program gives inmates an opportunity to take a trade and knowledge with them when they leave the prison system.
When the Ridge Area ARC called, Charlie went to work helping them with their vegetable gardens. Ridge Area ARC is an organization serving and advocating for individuals with developmental and other disabilities in Avon Park Florida. One of the raised beds in their garden has a plaque with his name thanking him.
As quick as he was done with one project, he was off helping someone else. When he wasn’t forging new paths in our community he was helping me with anything I needed. Behind him, he left a trail of trained Master Gardener volunteers. Temikia, from the Housing Authority Community Garden, Tommy from the Correctional Institution, and Cindy at the Ridge Area Arc.
When he earned State Master Gardener of the Year in 2017 it was no surprise to me. The next Monday he was back at work volunteering. That’s just Charlie. As a volunteer Charlie leaves his mark. The question remains; who will Charlie help next?
April is National Volunteer Month, when we celebrate the work that volunteers do year-round. Volunteer Month recognizes and promotes the spirit of service, and raises awareness about how volunteering changes lives and strengthens communities.