Anne McMinn's Extraordinary Service
This year we were proud to nominate Anne McMinn for the Heart of Napa Volunteer of the Year Award. Her dedication and service have inspired many of us who have been honored to know her and her work. This is the letter of recommendation in support of her nomination.
It is rare to find a volunteer who has such dedication to an idea, a philosophy that she is willing to commit many years of her life to it. Anne McMinn is such a person.
Volunteering came naturally to her as she observed her parents volunteering for the PTA, Little League when she was growing up. Her summer jobs included working at summer camps for special needs children. Starting out in adult life as a Special Education teacher, she put a hold on that activity when her first son was born.
Anne and her husband Chuck lived in Silicon Valley for many years where they raised their children. At one point she was taking a Plant ID class at Foothill College and needed to do some research about jobs that included the use of Plant ID and found Horticultural Therapy. That sparked her interest to get a certificate in Horticultural Therapy and she later became a Master Gardener.
Horticultural therapy techniques are employed to assist participants to learn new skills or regain those that are lost. Horticultural therapy has proved to help improve memory, cognitive abilities, task initiation, language skills, and socialization.
Before moving to the Napa Valley, she developed a Horticultural Therapy (HT) program for the Mexican American Community Services Association in /San Jose and volunteered there for 8 years.
In 2004 she and Chuck decided to live full time in Napa County in order to devote their time to the winery they had purchased in 2000. At Collabria Care, our mission is to provide excellent care to those who are experiencing the challenges related to the transitions of aging . These programs include Hospice, Adult Day Health Services, Information and Assistance, La Boheme resale shop, Act 2 Thrift Store and the Up Valley Village. In 2005 Anne started volunteering at the Adult Day Health Program after picking up a flyer at a health fair. At that time, the garden at the Day Program was tended by master gardeners and consisted of 6 raised beds filled begonias which are easy to grow. Anne recognized the potential for a therapeutic garden and took on the role of managing the HT volunteers, creating a training for them and developed the program to include not only planting begonias, but planting succulents, bulbs, and vegetables.
She trained the volunteers in how to work 1:1 with people who have challenges in cognition, mobility, and socialization. Her experience in Special Education led her to bringing in or creating adaptive tools so that the participants could work on the garden no matter what their physical limitations might be. In her words, the therapeutic garden of the Adult Day Health Program provided an enhancement to cognitive, emotional, social, and physical well-being. Participants who come into the Day Program are experiencing changes related to Alzheimer’s Disease, Dementia, Brain Trauma and Developmental Disabilities. The program has a person-centered care approach to enhancing the quality of life for those who have struggled with any of these issues. Engaging in Horticultural Therapy, a person with physical limitations might find their strength and balance improved, while those who are socially isolated had someone to talk to about a common interest – gardening. Working on garden projects provides a sense of accomplishment which can help with mental and emotional issues.
Anne managed the program, as a volunteer, for 16 years! She came into the program two times a week and supervised 10 other master gardener volunteers. The project was so compelling that the volunteers came in to help even though their time could not be counted toward volunteer hours required by the master gardener association. Her time in the program amounts to close to 5,000 volunteer hours give or take a few.
In her work, she took the time to get to know the participants, read over their care plans and what interested them about working in the garden. The HT volunteers not only helped participants with planting projects, but they also took the results of their labors and made potpourri, pressed flower bookmarks and had an annual plant and craft sale to bring money back into the program. One participant was not too keen on gardening, but eagerly, wrote the small signs that went on the plants for the plant sale. There are many different types of activities in the Day Program, but the Horticultural Therapy opened a new door of interest for men in the program who might not be interested in some of the other creative pursuits such as knitting or quilt making.
Anne felt that an important offshoot (so to speak) of the activities provided a chance to market this important program to the community. She often spoke to community groups about the benefits of the program and secured donations from garden clubs in our county. The Collabria Care HT program was included in a video of the American Horticultural Therapy Association as an example of a successful program.
The Adult Day Health Horticultural Therapy program became well known in our community and has grown the garden that only had begonias to one that includes succulents, specialty plots for smelling and touching. Smell is one of the most powerful senses, bringing back memories that may have been forgotten. The stimulation of touching a plant with interesting textures encourages brain activity in a positive way. The garden is a still a delight to participants and staff alike.
Her stories of individual benefits are as sweet as they are plentiful.
One participant grew up selling her mother’s sweet peas. Anne made sure the garden included sweet peas for that person.
When she left the program in 2013, she put together a book about the HT program and took a little break. In the meantime, she and her husband donated wine from their winery to support the annual Collabria Care Gala which benefits Hospice patients and their families. She then came back to volunteer for our newest program, the Up Valley Village in 2018. She helped to develop that program as well and participated in helping individuals live independently in the Up Valley communities we serve. After the pandemic when we could not use volunteers anywhere, she came back to the program in spite of the Personal Protective Equipment and Infection Control requirements. The manager of that program says of Anne: “Anne is one of the original volunteers from a cohort that began prior to me taking on the role of Program Manager. I met Anne in early March 2020 before the world shut down.
Without Anne’s support of checking in on our members, picking up/dropping off items, and providing transportation, I do not think our program and those we serve would still be here today.
Anne’s genuine kindness and caring for our members is made evident by the strong friendships she holds with them. I will forever be thankful for having Anne on our team. I know that she will probably not like that I am writing about her or that I nominated her, but I think she needs as much recognition
for all the time she offers our program and those she impacts, myself included.”
Some of her assignments have taken her to helping a community member revive her small condo garden so she could enjoy it while recovering from Cancer Treatment. Another community member just wanted a ride to get a gift bag and card so she could deliver a bottle of wine to a friend.
I asked Anne what her favorite part of volunteering is she said: “I always felt lucky to work for a place like Collabria Care where the staff is so nice, knowledgeable, and dedicated to helping others. It was a pleasure coming in each week.” Her general philosophy about volunteering: You get back way more than you give is really true! Her excitement about Horticultural Therapy is still evident even though she has moved on to other pursuits.
When I think about someone who has had a tremendous impact on the world, our programs, community, and staff, I think of Anne McMinn. Her thoughtful caring, dedication to helping others, sharing of her expertise and willingness to preserver are true signposts of a volunteer of the year. The world is a better place for having Anne McMinn in it.