Picture Perfect: Community Partnership
The day was picture perfect. Vibrant fall colors and a clear blue sky provided the backdrop for a photo session with the Browder family. Their visit was the result of a community partnership between the Garden and United Methodist Family Services (UMFS). A non-profit organization, UMFS’s mission is to be a champion for high-risk children and families. Among their many services is foster care. The Garden provides complimentary passes for foster families such as theirs to visit.
“We’re grateful for this community partnership with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden to support the children, teens and families we serve,” shared UMFS Family Systems Coordinator Drew Webb.
According to Webb, the Browders are a great example of UMFS’ core values, especially the idea that collaboration multiplies impact. “Karen and Tisha are always willing to partner with other foster and adoptive families who need assistance or guidance,” Webb said. “They’re tremendous advocates who regularly share the ongoing need for Resource Families with the community.”
The Day of the Visit
When the day came for me to meet the Browders, matching purple sweatshirts made them easy to spot in the Visitor’s Center. Accompanying them was Mleeha Shah. Shah first met the family as their daycare provider and has had a close relationship with them ever since. In addition to her daycare, Shah has a photography business called White Oak Photography RVA.
As we walked through the Garden looking for photo locations, Karen Browder told me about their family. “My wife Tisha and I have been together 23 years and we have been married for the past seven.” Their daughter Sequoia was born in 2012, and Karen said that several years later, they decided to grow their family. “Sequoia wanted an older sibling and we were interested in foster care.” The couple went to an informational session at UMFS and took the classes. This resulted in the adoption of their son Manny in November of 2016. “We decided we weren’t done–we had such a positive experience with Manny that we opened up our home again and adopted Sandton in 2019,” Karen said. And they are still not done; their home is currently open for a placement.
Spending Time Together
Sequoia clearly loves having siblings and spending time together as a family. She led the group through the Garden, skipping along the paths. “I love this place!” she exclaimed. The boys were a little too cool to show such excitement, but there were signs they were enjoying themselves. Sandton took out his earbuds and joked around as the family posed for photos. Manny whistled to the birds and snapped a photo in Asian Valley to use as his phone’s screensaver. There was some teasing over the boys’ concerns about keeping their treasured shoes clean, but it was all in fun.
Along the way, the family shared stories. Sequoia told me about her name and we chatted about sequoia trees and how one day the family hopes to make a trip to see them. Karen recalled other visits to the Garden for M&T Bank Butterflies LIVE! and Dominion Energy GardenFest of Lights. “The Garden is beautiful,” she said. “It’s nice to walk around with family.”
The Meaning Behind the Pictures
The Browders try to do family photos at least once a year. Manny was quick to show me one of the first ones from 2015 on his phone. When asked what these photos mean to him, he said, “They are special memories.”
Karen agrees. “I love the photos. Manny and Sandton came to us with minimal photos and family memories. If they should choose to have families of their own one day, I want them to have photos to share.”
As you can see, the photos captured the beauty of this day and this family. We are grateful to the Browder family for sharing their story with the Garden. Their images are a wonderful reminder of the importance of love, family and time spent together. Their example and the Garden’s partnership with UMFS show how collaboration makes a difference in our community.
Note: Photography sessions in the Garden must be scheduled in advance and require a fee. Learn more about photography sessions at the Garden.