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Brooklet and Stilson Youth Garden Clubs experiencing great 'growth'

Brooklet and Stilson Elementaries' Youth Garden Clubs are doing great work within their schools and communities. From selling fresh produce to faculty to being honored with several awards at a state convention, both clubs' efforts are paying off in more ways than one. Grice Connect recently spoke with the devoted team behind the youth garden clubs who are tirelessly working to cultivate life-long agriculture skills and lasting memories for these students.

We all know there's a lot of growth in Bulloch County these days, but students at Brooklet Elementary School and Stilson Elementary School are experiencing a different kind of 'growth,' thanks to some dedicated adults in our community.

The BES and SES Youth Garden Clubs give students the opportunity to learn various skills related to planting, gardening, and nature conservation. 

Members of the Brooklet Garden Club work with the Brooklet/Stilson Youth Garden Club students.

We spoke with

  • Jenny Hendrix (STEM Lab Teacher at Stilson Elementary School)
  • Faye Hulst (Brooklet Garden Club Youth Committee Chair)
  • Judy Walker (President of the Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs)
  • Nancy Watson (Secretary of the Brooklet Garden Club and Board Member of the Oleander District; Editor of the Oleander Leaflet Newsletter)
  • Jane Wood (Brooklet Garden Club Youth Committee Chair)

to provide more information on the youth garden clubs, their recent awards, and why gardening is an important skill for young children to acquire.

Why Youth Garden Clubs Matter

Both BES and SES Youth Garden Clubs primarily educate children on the environmental benefits of gardening.

"We began these youth garden clubs to teach our local students about flowers and the environment," Faye Hulst shared. "Initially, we saw a need to give these students a gardening skill-set, because many did not previously have one. However, we quickly found that they enjoyed the overall process of gardening and learning more about it."

She continued, "I think sometimes locals believe that because we live in the countryside, our kids automatically understand the agriculture. But oftentimes, they do not. This is why it's important for students to get involved with youth garden clubs. The Brooklet Garden Club saw it as a great opportunity to support both BES/SES Youth Garden Clubs with the different projects that they do throughout the year. Both clubs need resources to get materials and our garden club has several retired teachers who are willing to help."

The STEM program at each school--Brooklet Elementary School and Stilson Elementary School--takes charge of its respective garden club. However, both clubs regularly collaborate and help each other with important projects .

Three Youth Garden Club students received participating awards for their posters for the Smokey Bear & Woody Owl contest. 

Additionally, the community support of both youth garden clubs has been great, as many residents are eager to support the gardening efforts of its students. 

Nancy Watson followed up Hulst's sentiments, sharing, "Anything that has to do with the conservation and preservation of gardens, these students are getting the opportunity to experience the process first-hand. Furthermore, throughout this process, they are receiving an understanding of gardening and can take this knowledge into their adulthood as the next generation of gardeners."

The Stilson Youth Garden Club

Jenny Hendrix is the STEM Lab Teacher at Stilson Elementary School and was named Bulloch County Schools Teacher of the Year in December 2022. 

Hendrix said, "I started the Youth Garden Club at Stilson Elementary so that our students would have the opportunity to have a club outside of school. I opened it up for 2nd-5th grades students and students who were interested had to apply to be a part of it. We were able to take in about 30 students, even though an overwhelming amount of students initially applied. I wanted our SES students to have an opportunity to do things that we couldn't do during the school day."

The SES Youth Garden Club regularly rolls the "STEM Market Cart" around school, carrying things to sell from the garden to the faculty and staff. They've sold mustard greens, loofah sponges, soaps transformed from gourds, and more.

"The Stilson Youth Garden Club meets once a month to do activities that will enhance our school," Hendrix added. "For example, we have a school garden. My garden club kids help me daily with the responsibilities and upkeep for maintaining our garden. We also plant planters in the front of our school. We've done community projects, we've made things for local nursing homes and for our teachers, and so much more."

Teacher Jenny Hendrix showing Grice Connect's Brandon Robinson a gourd which is used to make loofah sponges and soaps.

Hendrix continued, "We have a Farmers Market in the spring, and we take the products we've grown, or made in STEM, and open it up to the community. I always say that when I was a student at Stilson Elementary School, I remember the things I 'did', rather than the tests I took. Things like gardening, feeding chickens, and watching the life-cycle of a butterfly are all experiences that have stuck with me for life."

The Brooklet Youth Garden Club

Mark Petkewich is the STEM Lab Teacher at Brooklet Elementary School, but Brooklet Garden Club member Jane Wood is regularly involved in the activities with the Brooklet Youth Garden Club.

Wood shared, "The Brooklet Elementary Youth Garden Club does not have a meeting once a month but they have different activities that they plan throughout the year. We have a service project which is usually recycling or something to do with the environment. We oftentimes take those finished projects and products to local nursing homes. The Brooklet Youth Garden Club also does the planting of our front pollinator gardens. One time, we dedicated and planted a front pollinator garden in honor of a young child who died. And that was a very touching experience for our students."

"My philosophy for our BES Youth Garden Club is to touch each student's life--as many as I can with my coworker Mark Petkewich--and teach them about nature and gardening," she added. "Whether that means taking our youth to pull weeds after school, or planting more gardens throughout the year, everything is done in an effort to keep them interested in nature and the environment. Touching each child's life is the most important part of these youth garden clubs."

Vegetable garden at Stilson Elementary School.

Both BES and SES Youth Garden Clubs have participated in a variety of projects including recycling contests, pollinator gardens, flower shows, and other activities. The Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs also puts on a local flower show biannually which garden club youth enjoy. Both youth clubs also participate in collaborative meetings where they discuss upcoming contests and plant different plants to sell at markets.

STEM Market Cart at Stilson Elementary School. The SES Youth Garden Club regularly rolls the "STEM Market Cart" around school, carrying things to sell from the garden to the faculty and staff. They've sold mustard greens, loofah sponges and soaps transformed from gourds, and so much more.

Awards given to Brooklet/Stilson Youth Garden Clubs ("Jacket Junior Garden Club")

The 95th Convention of The Garden Club of Georgia was held in Stone Mountain, Georgia on April 19, 2023. The Jacket Junior Garden Club, composed of the Brooklet Elementary and Stilson Elementary youth, was awarded three certificates.

Represented by the Oleander District, the awards are as follows:

  • 1st Place Award J-3 Civic Beautification Award
  • 1st Place H-1 (J) Scrapbook Award A3
  • 1st Place Award J-4 Horticulture Award A3

The Kiwanis Club of Brooklet has also donated $500 to the Brooklet Garden Club to be used at Brooklet and Stilson Elementary Schools for sponsoring the Youth Clubs.

The Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs

The Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs is made up of 4 clubs and has 120 members currently. 

The Clubs are

  • Brooklet Garden Club (Brooklet, Ga)
  • Evergreen Garden Club (Statesboro, Ga)
  • Hoe and Hope Garden Club (Statesboro, Ga)
  • Sprig N' Dig Garden Club (Statesboro, Ga)

The Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs is also a member of the National Garden Clubs, Inc., The Deep South Clubs, Inc., The Garden Club of Georgia, Inc., and the Oleander District.

The Brooklet Garden Club has won several awards in the recent past. A few awards the Garden Club of Georgia, Inc presented the Brooklet Garden Club with are:

  • 2022 Standard of Excellence Award.
    • This is given in recognition of the many accomplishments for 2022 as detailed on the President’s Report of Garden Club Achievements.
  • Martha Miller Butterfly Award.
    • This is given to the club that has made outstanding environmental contributions through planting and maintaining a butterfly garden.
  • Outstanding Youth Garden Club of the Year Award.
    • This is awarded to the club that sponsors the most outstanding Youth Garden Club which operates within the Garden Club of Georgia youth club guidelines.

The Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs, The Garden Club of Georgia, Inc. received from the National Garden Clubs, Inc.

  • Certificate of Merit for Award 10-A -Council Standard Flower Show “Blooming in the Boro”.

"I was the previous president of the Brooklet Garden Club, but am currently the president of the Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs. The council cooperates with four federated garden clubs which are Brooklet, Evergreen, Hoe and Hope, and Sprig N' Dig. And by federation, that means that we are affiliated with the State of Georgia's Garden Club, as well as the National Garden Club," stated Walker

"The Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs regularly supports both youth garden clubs and provides sponsorships as often as possible. One of the highlights from the council is our flower show done every other year. The youth garden club members enjoy it, as well as, participating students from Southeast Bulloch Middle School and High School who regularly assist. It is a wonderful event for people of all ages and our next flower show will be in Spring 2024."

The Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs regularly supports local programs and organizations such as Ronald McDonald House, Fostering Bulloch/Hope Chest, Local Food Bank, Statesboro Therapy Dogs, and many more. 

For more information on the Bulloch Council of Garden Clubs, visit