Each year, organizations around the country celebrate “National Volunteer Month” during the month of April, when we remember to take a moment and recognize the work that our dedicated volunteers do year-round. Volunteers are the backbone of any community—lending their time, energy, and financial resources to organizations that are near and dear to their hearts.

Marie Selby Botanical Gardens (Selby Gardens) is one of the hallmarks of the local Sarasota community—offering a breathtaking bayfront oasis for tourists and natives alike and showcasing a living collection of rare and beautiful tropical plants. Originally the home of William and Marie Selby, and opened to the public in 1975, Selby Gardens brings in more than 130,000 visitors annually, and is recognized as a world leader in the study and conservation of epiphytes (a plant that grows on another plant but is not parasitic, such as orchids or bromeliads). Like many Sarasota organizations, volunteers are essential to the success of Selby Gardens as a private nonprofit.

Plymouth Harbor resident Susan Eckert is one of the botanical garden’s many dedicated volunteers. Susan began working with the organization in July 2014 after she relocated to Sarasota with her husband, Charles. As of December 2017, Susan has contributed more than 453 hours of volunteer service to Selby Gardens. She mainly serves as a docent in the Payne Mansion and Museum, but jumps in when necessary to work events, engage in training, and fill in for open shifts.

“I’ve always had an interest in horticulture, and when I lived in Atlanta I served as a volunteer with the Atlanta Botanical Garden,” she says. “Selby was a natural fit when I moved here.”

Plymouth Harbor employee Pete Berkery, of our Security department, also has an involvement with Selby Gardens, volunteering his time and talents in a unique way—behind the lens. Pete has a passion for photography, finding the best landscapes and views in the areas surrounding Sarasota County and sharing them with Plymouth Harbor to use in publications such as the Harbor Light resident newsletter, The Current employee newsletter, and the Plymouth Harbor Foundation’s annual Impact Report. Throughout 2017, Pete spent nearly 40 hours taking pictures that would best suit our use, and we are so grateful.

Pete scouts locations such as Myakka River State Park, Crescent Beach, Siesta Key, Lido Key, and, naturally, Selby Gardens. In fact, Pete even submitted his photos for Selby Gardens’ annual juried photography competition that they have been hosting since 1980. In recent years, the contest has included only photos that were captured onsite at Selby Gardens, awarding prizes to talented amateur and professional photographers who capture one-of-a-kind nature scenes.

We are continually grateful for the people who give precious time to help others. Year after year, Plymouth Harbor residents, employees, and board members alone contribute more than 10,000 hours to organizations in our community. It is that participation and support that makes Sarasota the vibrant and caring community that it is today.