RSF Garden Club grant funds outdoor science classroom at Calavera Elementary School

RSF Garden Club
RSF Garden Club members Steven Winters (president), Marianne Brigham, Nique Waluk, Executive Director Natalie Kaczur, Patti Gethen, Calavera Hills Principal Kimberly Fuentes and grant administrator Christina McGoldrick at Calavera Hills Elementary School.
(Courtesy of Christina McGoldrick )

On Aug. 1, Carlsbad’s Calavera Elementary School held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of its new outdoor science classroom, a learning opportunity made possible by a $5,500 grant from the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club.

“We are so happy to be able to support projects like the outdoor science lab for Calavera School,” said RSF Garden Club President Steven Winters in a news release. “The Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club has funded numerous educational botany and horticulture projects throughout San Diego County.”

In fact, over the past five years, the club has awarded over $55,000 in grants to schools in the Carlsbad Unified School District, providing supplies for science curriculum in school gardens and building materials to establish outdoor science classrooms like the one at Calavera.

Despite the constant challenges of the pandemic, with cost increases, labor shortages and supply chain issues, the installation at Calavera was finished just in time for the new school year to begin.

“We could not be more thankful for the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club’s grant program. The grant at Calavera Hills Elementary School will provide teachers with the opportunity to provide our STEAM curriculum in an outdoor classroom setting, connecting our elementary students to the larger world,” said Benjamin Churchill, superintendent of CUSD in the news release. “Our students will greatly benefit from the hands-on, experiential learning opportunities the new outdoor classroom will provide. This grant will benefit countless children in the coming years, and we are excited about the many possibilities ahead.”

According to Christina McGoldrick, grant administrator, the pandemic created unforeseen budget issues and the club needed to collaborate with other organizations in order to successfully complete the project. When it became clear that funds were short for the 2,000-square-foot foundation due to pandemic-related cost increases, KRC Rock stepped in and delivered a donation of 25 yards of decomposed granite. Additional donations were made by Albertsons, J&W Lumber, Pollos Maria, Subway, Sunbelt Rentals, The Home Depot and U-Haul.

“We were happy to help build a strong sense of community, create connections between organizations, and make an impact with long-lasting benefits for the students,” said Tim Josse, owner of KRC Rock in a news release.

The Garden Club’s blooming grant program is something that club president Winters has fully embraced.

Originally from New York, Winters has been an Olivenhain resident for 16 years. He got involved with the RSF Garden Club four years ago, interested in using his financial background to help the club’s charitable efforts. He became president a year and a half ago.

“It’s really been a privilege to be involved in such a long-standing and well-respected organization like this,” said Winters, a self-described “aspiring gardener” who jokes that he has a love-hate relationship with the grapefruit trees on his property.

Every year the RSF Garden Club opens up a request for proposals for grants, funded by the club’s endowment. Grants are open to organizations looking to develop charitable or educational horticulture and conservation activities. Past recipients have included organizations that help with food insecurity such as Paige’s Pantry and San Dieguito Academy, where the club helped fund a meditation garden on campus.

This year’s goal is to distribute $150,000 in grants and Winters’ hope is to expand that even further as the years go on: “I’d like to give more away.”

The application process for annual grants up to $10,000 will open up in the next few weeks. The club spends a few months evaluating the submissions before announcing the winners at an annual spring event, “A Celebration of Giving”, held at The Secret Garden.

In addition to its charitable efforts, the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club has 18 to 20 social events a year, most recently hosting a farm-to-table dinner at Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas and on Monday, Oct. 17, they will host a succulent pumpkins workshop. They also run the Bloom Again resale shop, where treasures can be found in a warm and inviting shop located below The Secret Garden. As part of this year’s Rancho Days, there will be a Bloom Again sale on Saturday, Oct. 8, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Founded in 1926, the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club is one of the oldest garden clubs in the United States. Winters is hoping to get the word out, to invite more people to come join the club or let the club help support their cause through its grant program.

“The club has been a tremendous part of Rancho Santa Fe for nearly 100 years. We’re just stewards of the club for a short period of time,” Winters said. “The club was here before us and hopefully will be around a long time after us.”

“I’m proud of our history,” he added. “We’re looking for enthusiastic people to become involved.”

To learn more about club membership, events, this year’s grant recipients, as well as opportunities for nonprofit organizations to apply for annual grants, go to or contact Natalie Kaczur at or (858) 951-1885.

— Christina McGoldrick contributed to this report.