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Kiwanis clubs raise funds while helping butterflies thrive.

Story by Julie Saetre

In Fort Walton, Florida, many know Kiwanian Ruth Sykes as “the Gardener Lady” due to her love of flora and her assistance with creating community gardens. Now, she’s earning the title through a new venture.

Sykes, past president and current assistant secretary of the Fort Walton Beach Kiwanis club, is spearheading the Butterfly Garden Project, a joint program with the Fort Walton Beach Woman’s Club and the Mary Esther Community Garden.

Many species of butterflies are becoming endangered as their natural habitats give way to property and infrastructure development. The Kiwanians and their program partners wanted to reverse that trend. So they began selling raised-bed gardens stocked with butterfly-friendly plants. 

And they don’t just market the beds; they install and plant them as well. Once a garden is purchased, volunteers visit the site, determine a suitable location and then construct the plot. Each 4-by-4-foot bed is surrounded by a sturdy wood frame, lined with a weed curtain and stocked with organic garden soil, compost, nectar plants for food, and milkweed or similar host plants for butterfly eggs and larvae.

“My goal,” Sykes says, “is to have one in everybody’s yard.”

She and her team also have built gardens on school grounds, and each of the six Service Leadership Programs sponsored by the Kiwanis club has grown plants to help with supplies. This year, the project added a new option: compact potted container gardens with host and nectar plants.

“I’m planting seeds, you know? And it’s not just physically a seed, but planting a seed about how to grow food and butterflies,” Sykes says. “It’s just beautiful.”

In Texas, the Northeast Tarrant County Kiwanis club’s annual Butterfly Festival, held each September, lets guests get up close and personal with 1,000 of the winged creatures thanks to a 600-square-foot customized tent space. Families feed and interact with the butterflies while learning about the key role they play in the ecosystem.

Up to 2,000 guests visit the two-day festival each year. A silent auction benefits The Eliminate Project and Children’s Miracle Network. At the event’s end, children help to release the butterflies, which are all native to Texas. 

“It’s a really fun project,” says Kiwanis club member Tricia Raich. “We can get a butterfly to walk on your nose or hang out on your hand. I have so much fun teaching the kids and interacting with people.”


 

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