When my wife Helen accepted the volunteer position as President of the Garden Club in June 2010 she quickly discovered that she was, in fact, a glorified building manager, with insufficient funds in the bank to maintain the building for more than a month or two. So, her first step was to lay off the staff and to solicit volunteers to help her keep the doors open. I was her first “volunteer” and took on the responsibilities of manager, bookkeeper, building repair man, clerical secretary, furniture mover and anything else necessary to get the job done.
Other friends also volunteered to help Helen plan events and carry them out. Quite a few members of the club contributed more than just their time and the fact that we now have almost $500,000 in the bank speaks to the amount of time and money donated by friends over the past few years. Obviously, we would not have had the same result if we had just kept the staff in place and tried to operate the club as in the past.
It was clear from the beginning, however, that operating with an unpaid, all-volunteer staff was only a short-term financial fix. We had to deal with the question of whether managing (or even leasing) the building was an appropriate mission for the Garden Club going forward.
For historical perspective, the Garden Club was created in 1926 and became a 501c3 charity in 1971, dedicated to support horticultural and conservation activities in the Ranch. From its very beginning, the Club also served as a major social focal point for the activities of its members. The present facility was funded by member donations and built in 1972, providing a meeting hall for community and homeowner events, such as graduations, cotillions, and weddings, ever since. For all of those years the Garden Club was well-supported by a majority of RSF residents but that support has waned in recent years. Times have changed and many other clubs and community organizations have taken on activities and events that used to fall under the purview of the Garden Club.
It is still my feeling, however, that the Garden Club facility, built by residents and used as a village center for over 40 years, should remain a community asset going forward. As Rancho Santa Fe homeowners, we still need a social venue that can easily and conveniently handle large events, those that can add depth and texture to our lives, be it music, art, education, lectures. But, having said that, I feel the obvious organization to own and manage such a facility is the RSF Association, not the Garden Club.
It is also my feeling that the Garden Club, unencumbered by the necessity to manage the building, can refocus on what its proper role should be in our community. We see the new Garden Club as open to all age groups in the covenant, inclusive rather than exclusive, more about lifestyle and culture and interesting residents than gardens. Of course, we will continue to hold Garden Club events in the building, but we won’t be forced to solicit events that don’t benefit covenant members or don’t fit our mission just to keep the doors open. This transaction with the Association will allow us to turn our major asset, the building that often seems like a liability, into a true asset that more effectively supports our mission. Our participation in the new “Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club Community Enhancement Fund,” created with the proceeds of the sale, will ensure the unique role the Garden Club has played in this community for over 88 years.
Steve DiZio, Executive VP of the Garden Club and Covenant resident of 10 years.