Partnering for People and Plants

Written by: Catherine Kempista, Delaware Center for Horticulture Communications Manager


The First State. The Small Wonder. A place where everyone knows your name… and your neighbor’s name and your high school football coach’s name… you get the idea. Delaware is a place where connections and relationships matter and where partnerships can make a real difference for our communities and neighbors.  And if you find a truly perfect partner, those connections turn into real, meaningful change for people and places that need it the most. The Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH) found such a partner and co-collaborator in our Wilmington neighbor, Jewish Family Services of Delaware (JFS).  

In 2016, JFS embarked on plans to create the Dory Zatuchni Village Garden, a welcoming and therapeutic outdoor space on their Wilmington campus, and engaged DCH to design the space, which integrated features for their audience of seniors and behavioral health clients, students from the neighboring Early Childhood Center, and other campus visitors. Fulfilling their vision, the space, which has been seasonally maintained by DCH since 2019, is an outdoor sanctuary for their clients and patrons and a gathering space for the community to enjoy. It has also served as a training ground for our Branches to Chances (BtC) Return to Work Program trainees for the last few years, giving our staff a site to show our participants proper in-the-field techniques for plant identification, pruning, and maintenance. 

Branches to Chances trains unemployed, underemployed, and/or previously incarcerated individuals in the field of landscape horticulture, incorporating a life skills curriculum and preparing individuals with sought-after skills and knowledge for job placement with partnering businesses at the program’s conclusion. The program, like many aspects of our lives, was impacted when COVID-19 shut the world down.”

The pandemic hit just as we had started our 2020 BtC program, and everything came to an abrupt halt as the reality set in of what exactly we were dealing with,” said Vikram Krishnamurthy, DCH Executive Director. “When we started to see signs from public health that a possibility existed for a 2021 class, I reached out to Basha Silverman at JFS, knowing the curriculum had to include greater mental health and mindfulness supports and services for our trainees in light of everything that 2020 brought into our lives.”  

Partnering with JFS, regional experts in the fields of mental health, counseling, and social services, our education and training team emerged from 2020 with a 2021 BtC curriculum that wholly incorporates accessible and effective behavioral health and trauma support to mitigate distress during COVID-19, develop appropriate coping and decision-making skills, and establish a network of support for the participants. This addition represented a tremendous educational milestone for our program.  

“JFS Delaware is grateful for our continued and deepening relationship with DCH and the participants of their Branches to Chances program. This collaboration thoughtfully combines the JFS mission to strengthen and support community members with DCH’s mission and global urgency to preserve and create green spaces,” said Basha Silverman, CEO of JFS Delaware. “JFS is committed to providing accessible, holistic support and resources to help vulnerable individuals and families who need us, and we look forward to delivering our comprehensive counseling and support services to community members in the BtC program, who are working hard to regain their stability and contribute to the health and beauty of our community.”  

Throughout the 9-week 2021 BtC program, JFS licensed clinicians will deliver eight sessions covering topics such as COVID impacts globally and personally, stress and anger management, problem solving, DST skills, Black Lives Matter and racial injustice, grief and loss, and mindfulness. These sessions are in addition to the hands-on, in-the-field horticulture and arboriculture skills training they receive, as well courses in financial literacy (with Stand By Me Financial Coaching), computer literacy (with the West End Neighborhood House), and job skills (at the Wilmington HOPE Commission Achievement Center). 


For more information on the Delaware Center for Horticulture’s Branches to Chances job training program for unemployed, underemployed, and/or previously incarcerated individuals, visit