Floretum scholarship winners: ‘This has been life-changing’

Floretum president Sally Wassall is flanked by this year's Floretum Scholarship recipients Joelle Dontigney and Shondell Kelley.
Floretum president Sally Wassall is flanked by this year’s Floretum Scholarship recipients Joelle Dontigney, left, and Shondell Kelley.

The Edmonds Floretum Garden Club took time out at its December general meeting to hear a report from this year’s scholarship winners. Each year, Floretum grants scholarships to students majoring in horticulture, landscape design and related disciplines at Puget Sound area colleges and technical schools.

This year’s recipients were Shondell Kelley, who just completed her program and received her degree in Environmental Horticulture from Lake Washington Technical College, and Joelle Dontigney, an Edmonds resident currently enrolled in Edmonds Community College’s Landscape Design program. For both, the Floretum scholarships allowed them to realize a long-held dream to break into a career creating beauty through the magic of growing things.

“As a child I experienced the joy of helping out in a plant nursery. From the start it took hold of my spirit, and something in me knew this is where I was meant to be,” Kelley said. “But after high school I took a job doing general office work. I did it for 15 years, and one day I just sat at my desk and cried. I knew I couldn’t do this anymore. So I took the risk and left the office environment to follow my dream.”

Kelley found occasional work teaching environmental education in summer camps, and was overjoyed to find a temporary one-year gig teaching ethnobotany, native plants and organic gardening in Ireland. But while the work was inspiring, the pay wasn’t enough to live on.

“By the time I got back from Ireland I’d pretty much run out of money, but knew I needed to go back to school if were ever going to sustain myself working in horticulture,” she said. “Then the Floretum Scholarship came along and changed my life. I just graduated on Friday, and I wouldn’t be standing here today without this help. It’s been nothing short of transformative. Thanks to Floretum, I can now sustain myself and live my passion at the same time.”

Joelle Dontigney’s story parallels Kelley’s experience. Now enrolled in the Edmonds Community College Landscape Design program, she takes additional classes at South Seattle Community College to help round out her studies. It’s a tough schedule, but “its so worth it because I’m living my dream.”

And like Kelley, she couldn’t do it without the Floretum Scholarship.

“Many folks don’t know or appreciate what scholarships can do,” she explains. “It’s so much more than just helping pay for college. It gives you relief from all the stress and financial worries so you can focus on your studies and what’s important.”

Dontigney worked for many years in an administrative job for the federal government, but her heart was always in her garden. “It’s magic how a garden can give you life,” she says. “It’s incredibly fulfilling to just watch these little plants sprout from seeds and know you’ve been part of making this happen.”

Kelley agrees. “Gardening and growing things has been part of the human experience since before recorded history,” she says. “I believe it’s in our DNA — it’s what humans are supposed to do. I’ve never felt more at home, more like I’m where I’m supposed to be, than when I have my hands in the dirt creating beauty in the outdoors.”

But for Dontigney it’s more immediate. “I don’t want to shower in the morning and go to an office. I want to get dirty and grimy during the day and take my shower at night!”

The Edmonds Floretum Garden Club funds scholarships through proceeds from the annual plant sale, holiday wreath sales, and various other community fundraisers throughout the year. Learn more about the Edmonds Floretum Garden Club at their website.

— Story and photo by Larry Vogel

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