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If You Guild It, They Will Come

by Jill Duff-Hoppes

Article published in Lake Mary Life Magazine:

A trio of local women who are passionate about gardening and Sanford have joined forces to make a difference in their own neighborhood – and beyond.

Robin Theisen, Caroline Garcia, and Sarah Clore – who could be aptly described as a Green Dream Team – recently cofounded the Sanford Cultural Guild, a nonprofit organization.

The Guild’s stated mission is to enhance the cultural and artistic significance of Sanford through valuable events and beautification projects.

“We want to continue to make Sanford more beautiful,” says Caroline. “While the city has come a long way, we still think it has a long way to go.”

The women have a vested interest in the success of the Guild and its various plans being that they live in Sanford’s historic residential district.

“We have the same goals, the same ideas about projects that we want to do around town,” says Robin. “We work really well together.”

Adds Sarah, “We’re all kind of feeding off each other’s passion.”

But the ladies aren’t just focused on beautifying their own part of town. Rather, the Guild’s projects will benefit downtown Sanford, at large, including Goldsboro, one of the oldest African-American communities in Florida.

How Does Their Garden Grow?

The Guild’s biggest goal is to install a botanical garden at the Sanford Museum on First Street – an ambitious undertaking that would be done in phases. The botanical garden would not only highlight the area’s natural beauty, it would also shine a light on town founder Henry Sanford’s agricultural contributions.

Other Guild projects include launching an alleyway beautification initiative, installing pollinator gardens, providing arborist support for struggling trees in George Touhy Park on Elm Avenue, and contributing to the maintenance of the Bettye D. Smith Cultural Arts Center on Fifth Street.

The newly established Guild is already off to a very strong start thanks to a highly successful fundraising event it presented on May 6: the 2023 Sanford Historic Garden Tour.

The ticketed event featured a self-guided tour of gorgeous private gardens dotting the historic residential district. Another stop on the tour was the Sanford Community Garden on 18th Street, which provides an opportunity for Sanford residents to grow their own organic vegetables, herbs, and fruits.

Adding to the relaxing ambiance of the garden stops were plein-air artists as well as singers and musicians who painted and performed on-site. Botanical and wildlife groups were on hand, too, which lent an educational component to the tour. While the stunning private gardens were the star of the show, the event also featured a plant sale, an artisan market, and a silent auction of artwork – all at Centennial Park on Park Avenue.

Making Green

The tour raised about $10,000 in net profits from sponsors, ticket sales, vendor fees, and sales of Guild T-shirts. Those monies will help fund the Guild’s roster of upcoming community projects.

Sarah, Caroline, and Robin received overwhelmingly positive feedback from everyone involved with the garden tour from homeowners and volunteers to sponsors and supporters like the Sanford Historical Society and Gallery on First. They also received glowing reviews from many tour attendees who are new residents of Sanford – or who are considering moving to the city.

“The excitement that they had about getting to be a part of this community was just the coolest thing to hear,” says Sarah. “I think we all can agree just how unique and special this community – and the people here – are.”

Plans are already in the works for the 2024 Sanford Historic Garden Tour, which will once again be held in early May.

Robin, Sarah, and Caroline won’t be resting on their laurels until then, though. They plan to get started on the alleyway beautification initiative this fall. With help from volunteers, the trio will add native plants to several local alleyways with a focus on drought-tolerant plants.

“It would be a unique opportunity to beautify but also help fragmented ecosystems,” says Caroline.

And on November 4, they will host a fundraising tea to continue bringing in monies to further the Guild’s important mission.

To learn more about its events and volunteer opportunities, search for the Sanford Cultural Guild on Facebook and Instagram.

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