When it comes to chronicling the ways in which Chris and Deanna Eckert have contributed to the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Foundation and the Gardens the big question is this: Where does one start?!
With the fact they’ve been members of the Gardens virtually since the day they moved from North Carolina to the Grand Rapids area nearly a decade ago? By highlighting how Deanna received the 2017 Octopus award for volunteering in a variety of areas at the Gardens, and how Chris volunteers 250 hours a year while working a full-time job?
No matter how you measure it, the Eckerts are shining examples of the many ways in which anyone can get involved as a volunteer, a donor and a champion for the Gardens and the Foundation.
“After moving here, we came to visit the Chihuly glass exhibit,” says Deanna. She glances at Chris and smiles. “That did it; we became members after one visit.”
“God blesses us to be a blessing wherever we live,” says Deanna. “In this place, we are part of sharing the beautiful things God has placed in this world.”
“Meijer Gardens is never about ‘bring us your money,’” Chris notes. “Instead, it’s ‘Hey, become a part of us.”
Growing up in Iowa, Deanna learned to volunteer from her parents. She carries on the tradition, teaching her sons the importance of volunteers in the community.
Chris was raised in Florida, in a climate of philanthropy, leaning on an adage from his mother to “Always leave a place a little better than you found it.”
Together, the Eckerts have combined those values to forge a lasting relationship with many not-for-profits in West Michigan, but hands down, they’re most heavily invested in Meijer Gardens where they have donated their time weekly for five years.
In the last year, they created additional impact with a gift to the Foundation. The Eckerts were able to take advantage of the generosity of Chris’ employer, GE, which matches employee gifts to qualifying organizations. So, after Chris and Deanna contributed $5,000 to the Foundation, GE answered in full, qualifying the Eckerts for membership in the Foundation’s Perennial Society at the $10,000 level.
Even if an employer isn’t set up to do a matching gift, it might take no more than “a nudge” to help them understand the benefits of doing so, Chris says. That way, a donor can double down on the impact their own gift has. And in the case of the Foundation, “That enhances the ways by which we can a ect this very special and unique organization,” says Chris.
The couple is also greatful that their gift to the Foundation allows them the opportunity to establish a special named, restricted fund dedicated to providing fresh flowers in the café. "It's a way for us to honor our life-long love of flowers and plants," says Deanna. "Chris and I enjoy being in the Balk cafe' and wandering through the sculpture park paths whenever possible." Bottom line? Deanna smiles broadly: "There's nothing else like it in the world!"