Al Goldstein and his late wife, Ann, always had a soft spot for children. So, when Marie Selby Botanical Gardens first approached the philanthropic couple as potential donors for a proposed educational children’s garden, the project caught their interest.
The interactive garden is intended to provide children and families hands-on experience and a place to explore and learn about an endangered non-native habitat. With three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren of his own, Goldstein says the garden holds special significance.
“I’m very partial to children, and Ann was, too,” says Goldstein. “She was a wonderful mother and grandmother, and she was a warm, loving person, who devoted a good deal of her time to helping children.”
In 2005, Selby board members began planning, researching and conducting preliminary fundraising. Then, when the economy improved and Selby was at a financially stable point, the board officially ramped up its fundraising efforts.
After Ann Goldstein died in 2011, Al Goldstein decided that the Children’s Rainforest Garden would provide a great opportunity to benefit the community while honoring the memory of his late wife. In 2012, he and Jean Weidner Goldstein, whom he married Aug. 9, contributed the lead naming gift to move the project forward.
“It’s something that will be wonderful for the community, and it’s a very novel idea for this area,” says Goldstein. “And, it’s something that will be of lasting memory for her.”
Since finalizing plans in 2011, Selby Gardens has conducted a $5 million fundraising campaign. As of Tuesday, March 19, it has raised $3,528,000 in cash and pledges. With funding from community foundations, including the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation and other private donors, the Ann Goldstein Children’s Rainforest Garden is set to open this fall.
Preliminary construction began March 1, and Selby hosted a private celebration Wednesday, March 20.
Selby’s mission for the garden is to increase guests’ knowledge and appreciation of tropical rainforests, which are rapidly disappearing. Through education and interaction, Selby CEO Thomas Buchter hopes to inspire future generations to continue to preserve these ecosystems.
“A children’s garden not only nurtures young souls as any garden would, but it helps foster an awareness and sense of responsibility at a young age about the precious gift we have inherited from nature and that it deserves our respect and protection,” says Buchter.
As the banyan grove at the garden undergoes its transformation into an elevated rainforest garden featuring a canopy walk, waterfall, amphitheater and three-part educational program, Goldstein looks forward to the impact the garden will have on Sarasota’s children.
“It’s so important for young people to stimulate their minds, ask questions and look at things they’ve never seen before,” he says.