How often do school-aged children get to see a penguin up close? Or a seal? Sea turtle? Exotic bird? Or see various trees and plants not native to this area.

Unfortunately, it’s not often. But through a program re-established this year, all elementary school children on Galveston Island and Bolivar Peninsula can visit Moody Gardens to learn more about nature and the environment. Done right, it’s a golden opportunity for the students, as well as a fun day for a class and teacher.

The original program, funded by the Friends of Moody Gardens, was established in 1985 as an outreach program through the volunteer organization. It was set up to bring third- and fifth-graders in Galveston to the sprawling nature park on the island.

But recently, after a year of no visits because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Friends of Moody Gardens program has been extended to all elementary- school children in Galveston and Bolivar to come and learn firsthand.

The organization raises money to pay for these activities, including its biggest fundraiser — the annual Herb Fair and Luncheon, which for its ninth year has been expanded and will be held Wednesday, May 5, at the Moody Gardens Hotel. The herb fair is a free event and open to the public, with lectures, demonstrations and vendors selling herb-related goods and other crafts.

The noon luncheon this year features Chef Mary Bass, a local award-winning restaurateur and caterer, who will discuss her favorite “Fiesta de Hierbas” spices in honor of Cinco de Mayo. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/TheFriendsofMoodyGardens/.

Before the pandemic started, the program was able to provide more than 8,000 participants an educational outing at Moody Gardens, to see and learn about the rainforests, the oceans and bays and the environment.

The group sponsored the field trips with lectures from the education staff to third- and fifth-graders, seniors and special-needs care facilities in Galveston. In addition, there were 101 off-site education Biofact programs conducted for more than 6,000 seniors, persons with special needs and youth throughout Galveston County — all with the financial assistance from the Friends of Moody Gardens.

The nonprofit destination uses nature to educate and excite visitors about conservation and wildlife. Moody Gardens features three main pyramid attractions: the Aquarium Pyramid, which is one of the largest in the region and holds many species of fish and other marine animals; the Rainforest Pyramid, which contains tropical plants, animals, birds, reptiles and a variety of other rainforest animals including free-roaming monkeys and two-toed sloths; and the Discovery Pyramid, which focuses on science-oriented exhibits and activities.

The Friends of Moody Gardens, now more than 150 members strong, continues to assist the staff at Moody Gardens with Hope Therapy events for special people and other educational event days that will restart soon.

Judy Anderson is president of the board of directors for the Friends of Moody Gardens.

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