Executive Update For You from Christine Conte

April 29, 2020

Dear Tohono Chul Family,

In this distressing time, I wish I could bring you news about when the COVID-19 crisis will end and when you will all be welcomed back to enjoy the gardens. While there is little news to share about what the future holds, I can offer an inside look at how we are shaping the path towards a brighter future.

Since closing the grounds on March 17th, we have been facing the challenge of pivoting from prosperity to unprecedented disaster planning and action.

You have every reason to be proud of the staff that remain active in their professional roles. Education, marketing, finance, membership, philanthropy, exhibits & human resources people are mainly working from home. They are finding new and creative ways to stay connected with volunteers, members, donors and community partners. Grounds and facilities staff are working (at safe distance from one another) to ensure that the gardens and buildings are well-maintained. And staff from several program areas have recently come together to create a non-traditional online plant sale that will help generate much needed revenue and provide the community with vital “plant therapy”!

Because Tohono Chul’s people make it all happen, it will come as no surprise that more than 57% of the annual $2 million budget supports its people—salaries, insurance and other benefits. With most revenue streams closed off and the slow summer season rapidly approaching, we will be forced to make ever deeper furloughs if funds are depleted faster than they can be replaced. Like many others, we submitted our application for federal emergency relief weeks ago, but as of this writing, we have no certainty that there will be ANY federal emergency funding coming through to provide even 8 weeks of relief.

We are, nonetheless, resilient and prepared. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that the gardens and facilities—Tohono Chul’s most fundamental assets that staff have lovingly developed and cared for over the past 35 years—are maintained. Gardens and rare plants would take decades to replace. Historic structures and the beautiful new Garden Pavilion are irreplaceable. All must be ready to welcome you home to Tohono Chul.

Few of us will ever have to endure what Gabby Giffords our dear friend, Tohono Chul Board Member Emeritus and Congressperson, has overcome. She is a shining example of what we aspire to when we use the work resilience. I have read this many times since a volunteer shared it a month ago and I hope it inspires you too. usatoday.va.newsmemory.com

While partial or limited attendance may be possible in the coming months, it is unclear when Tohono Chul will be open and fully operational again. The best available science and considerations of health and safety for the staff, volunteers, and community will be our guide.

Meanwhile, I hope you are finding ways to connect with nature, art and culture. Whether through the website, emails about program activities, or in your own neighborhood or yard. As life takes this unbelievable turn, we must all nurture ourselves and find peace and calm in the natural world.

I thank you for your generous outpouring of support. The gifts have been arriving online and by mail and members continue to renew and tack on generous gifts of support. By my next letter, I will have an update about our progress toward the $150,000 COVID-19 Survive and Thrive match. I thank you!

With most sincere wishes for your health and comfort,

Christine Conte, PhD

Executive Director