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Pieces of Eight

ECU Health Sciences Marketing Coordinator Debi Crotts works with a group called Gardeners for Hope to raise funds that help breast cancer patients. Their major fund-raising effort, a plant sale, was held April 21. (Photo by Judy Currin)

Crotts Nurtures Spirits through Gardeners for Hope

In coordination with the Recognition and Rewards Committee of the ECU Staff Senate, the Pieces of Eight series honoring exceptional ECU staff recognizes Debi Crotts.

By Judy Currin

Friends of Joan Balch turned their grief and their love of gardening into a biennial event to raise funds for local breast cancer patients.

The group is called Gardeners for Hope.

“The money we raise is given to the Joan Balch Breast Cancer fund,” said Debi Crotts, marketing coordinator for ECU’s health sciences and one of the founding members of Gardeners for Hope. “It is dispersed by the nurses at the Leo W. Jenkins Cancer Center to purchase wigs, prosthetics, dressings and health products for patients.” Since its inception in 2002, the fund has raised more than $45,000 to help patients who are challenged with economic problems or who need special encouragement.

The event honors the memory and spirit of Joan Balch, their dear friend who lost her battle with breast cancer in 2002.

The core group of Gardeners for Hope included Balch and began as a loosely structured fun-loving garden club.

“In our little garden club a lot of our activities were based around garden shopping – we loved it,” said Crotts. To support their shopping habit the group decided to throw a garden party and sell plants and a variety of arts and crafts. Crotts had just built a large screened porch, which was converted into their retail shop.

“We made it festive by always offering a delicious dessert table and playing background music,” Crotts said. “Our charge to other vendors to come and set up was that everyone had to donate to the dessert table.”

After Balch died, the group named itself Gardeners for Hope and dedicated the money raised from their garden parties to the Joan Balch Breast Cancer Fund. Balch was a passionate gardener. A stepping-stone at the entrance of her potting shed reads, “Hope Never Dies In a True Gardener’s Heart.” Crotts said this phrase encouraged and influenced a lot of her friends and family, as did her strength and determination to live each day to the fullest.

“In the beginning, continuing the garden party was a way to deal with our grief, to find comfort in each other with a common purpose and to keep Joan in our hearts and endeavors,” Crotts said. They wanted to honor Balch’s courage and optimism by offering hope to others who were dealing with breast cancer. As the fund-raiser has grown, so have its supporters.

“We have recovered breast cancer patients who were so touched by the support they received when they needed it, that they now volunteer their efforts,” Crotts said.

Foundation President Anna Doughtery said, “We wish to pass on hope and strength to women coping with breast cancer and provide gifts to patients to nurture their spirit and lift their hopes.”

The 2007 Gardeners for Hope plant sale was held April 21 at the American Cancer Society’s McConnell-Raab Hope Lodge. The event featured a large selection of garden plants, art and giftware from local artisans, along with donated items for home and garden décor. A hand crafted garden bench by local artist Paul Gianino was raffled during the sale.

Several ECU faculty and staff members serve as officers or board members including Crotts, Anna Doughtery (Joyner Library), Ed Crotts (Environmental Health), Anita Proctor (Cancer Center), Carolyn Willis (Joyner Library), and Balch’s former husband David Balch, retired from Telemedicine. Other directors/officers are Martha Postma, Jean Sutton, Mary Gresham, and Skip Dougherty.

This page originally appeared in the April 27, 2007 issue of Pieces of Eight. Complete issue is archived at