Written by Nancy Crawley
Smiling faces, happy people. That’s why Chantra Laninga is quick to volunteer for all kinds of special events at Meijer Gardens.
For nine years, the Grand Rapids resident has been wrapping presents at the holiday gift show and hanging shiny bobbles on Christmas trees, checking visitors for stow-away butterflies at the Butterflies are Blooming show, tending blossoms in the orchid room, and lending a hand at the Farm Garden and Japanese Garden.
The variety delights her. “I never knew there were 20 kinds of tomatoes,” she marveled after working one of the Farm Garden shows.
Chantra’s journey to Grand Rapids and eventually the Gardens’ volunteer ranks started on the other side of the world.
She was born and raised in Thailand. There, she taught lab sciences to medical students before coming to the United States at age 29 to accept an internship at Mercy Health St. Mary’s hospital.
She made Grand Rapids her home, working for 38 years as a St. Mary’s medical technologist. “I was a life scientist, doing all kinds of lab tests, whatever the doctors requested,” she said.
It was challenging and fulfilling work, but, like any busy hospital, the atmosphere was intense. Often, “people had sad faces,” she recalls. So nine years ago, while still working full time, she began volunteering, relishing the cheerful people in the beautiful Gardens.
Now 76 and retired, she still savors the same joy.
“When you walk in, you feel different,” she said. “You see people smiling, having fun,everything fresh. It’s hard to find that in this world.”
To explore volunteering, visit meijergardens.org/involved/volunteer/, or contact Tom Hoving at firstname.lastname@example.org or 616-974-5221. Volunteer orientation sessions are set for Dec. 7, 2016, and Feb. 7 and April 11, 2017, starting at 10:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m.