Meet our Cultivator(s) of the Quarter

Written by Plant With Purpose on October 7, 2014 in General, News & Events

Each quarter, Plant With Purpose chooses a standout individual to receive our Cultivator Award. This award highlights someone who uniquely cultivates support for Plant With Purpose in their own sphere of influence using their gifts and resources. Today we’re featuring our newest award recipients, Shirley and Barry Billingsley.

Shirley and Barry are longtime advocates who have traveled to Tanzania, hosted home receptions, served on the Gala committee, worked at Christmas gift markets, and continue to be deeply involved in producing the annual Planting Hope Gala. With the 30th Anniversary Gala taking place this Saturday, there’s no better time to celebrate the Billingsley’s unique contributions to Plant With Purpose!

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Shirley and Barry at the 2008 Planting Hope Gala

When and how did you first get involved with Plant With Purpose?

Initially, Barry and I knew Scott from our church, Solana Beach Presbyterian. That’s where we first heard about Plant With Purpose (then called Floresta). We used to pray for Plant With Purpose as a congregation when members of our church travelled to the Dominican Republic.

A few years later we were invited to a home reception where Scott shared about Plant With Purpose’s work around the world. That’s the first time we really started to hear firsthand what the programs were doing, and we were impressed and excited about what was being accomplished. We offered our home to host receptions and had two large dinners in our garden in 2003 and 2004. That’s when we started sponsoring a village and really getting involved.

Can you share about what your involvement looks like?

After we began sponsoring a village in Tanzania we had the opportunity to travel there on a Vision Trip in 2006. We planted trees, worked at a seedling nursery, built fuel-efficient stoves, and had the thrill of going to a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) meeting. We met the people who are being directly impacted by what Plant With Purpose is teaching. We saw that a little bit of money could go a long way in those communities, and that the education farmers received was impacting the entire community. Since then, Barry and I have been very involved with producing Plant With Purpose’s annual Gala. I served as the Chair of the Gala Committee for three years and still serve on the committee each year.

What motivates you to use your gifts and time to support the organization?

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Shirley with a partnering farmer in Tanzania

What attracted us at the beginning was that Plant With Purpose is a local organization that allowed us to do more than financially support the work. We could really get involved with our time and skills in a way that had an international impact. Through Plant With Purpose, you can actually make a difference as an individual, and that’s been very exciting for us.

What aspect of our work do you resonate with most?

What we love is how educating farmers about the environment and the importance of trees can make a difference in the lives of families. Especially in Mexico, education and training is tied to job creation. When people learn to farm sustainably, men can stay in their communities and support their families instead of migrating north to find work. They’re learning how to do that right there in their own village. Plant With Purpose programs are truly keeping families together.

We also resonate with the educational aspect of the program. It takes so little to make a difference in a country like Tanzania. The kids can’t go to school if they don’t have school uniforms, so how will they ever get out of poverty? But when a family is equipped to sell things like tomatoes and chickens, parents can afford uniforms and school fees and kids receive an education.

Do you have advice for people looking to uniquely use their gifts to support Plant With Purpose?

You can start small by volunteering at the San Diego office or at local gift markets or outreach events. Then go on a Vision Trip and go see what the programs are accomplishing firsthand! You will come back passionate about Plant With Purpose and the work being done by partnering farmers around the world.

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The Billingsleys during a visit to the Tanzania program

What is your favorite place to travel?

We used to do a lot of hiking and even climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro on our trip to Tanzania. Now, we enjoy cruises.

What does an ideal family outing entail?

Anytime we can get all our kids and grandkids (there are 18 total!) under one roof. It’s a feat – we have to send the dates out a year in advance. But those are our favorite times, when we can all be together in the same place.

After years of partnership, what is your favorite Plant With Purpose memory?

Everything we did in Tanzania. The community members we met were so generous and kind to us. We were there simply to check in and help in some small way, and they appreciated the encouragement.


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