“Say it with flowers” is more than an advertising slogan. Flowers are an ancient and eloquent form of expression—the floral equivalent of calligraphy.
Shawn Chamberlain, owner of The Flower Bar Company and founder of the Full Bloom nonprofit organization, speaks fluent flora. “I feel as if anything I want to say, I can say with flowers,” said Chamberlain. And that is where her amazing story begins.
“I grew up around gardening, so I have a close connection with flowers instilled in me from a young age,” said Chamberlain. “I kept nurturing that within myself, going into landscaping. I love to see all that God has given us in our beautiful area and earth, then to take what He has already created and use it as an expression to bless someone’s life.”
Appropriately enough, the moment that changed Chamberlain’s life occurred in a garden setting. She was offered the opportunity to design a three-acre garden for the Hospice House in Coeur d’Alene. Her approach to the project was totally typical of her: insightful, intuitive and very tender-hearted. “I thought, ‘If I were a patient here or a visiting family member, what kind of comfort would I want to receive from the garden?’ That drove my design.”
Proceeding with equal parts practicality and emotion, Chamberlain designed with “heirloom plants that you could cut, that a grandma could grow in her garden. I wanted the Hospice residents to be able to cut anything that they wanted, so I created every season with something of interest to see or smell. It was a neat process!”
Before that time, Chamberlain had no experience with Hospice. “I came to learn what an amazing organization Hospice is, the workers, nurses, caretakers, and to have a great admiration for their service to others.” She continued to tend the Hospice gardens for the first year, and one day she glanced up from her work to see a young mother with her children in one of the rooms. “At that time, my kids were as young as hers were, and I felt a distinct connection with her.” The feeling deepened and intensified. “I wondered what her family’s life would be from then on. I wondered if she was scared, if she felt alone, and I just felt compelled to do something for this sweet young mom. I had flowers, so that was my gift,” she concludes simply.
She made a beautiful bouquet with her heart and her hands and gave it to a nurse, asking the nurse to tell the young mother someone had noticed her and was thinking about her. “I felt so emotional—it was a tender moment for me that changed my life. I just wanted to make sure she knew someone was thinking about her, and to change that instant of receiving the flowers from sadness to happiness,” said Chamberlain.
She also realized something more was happening than one bouquet being given to one young mother. This was a call to greater action. She launched Full Bloom, a nonprofit organization, and began where she was with what she had.
“I had an excess of flowers because I was just getting into floral design on the side, working in my garage on the flowers for a friend’s wedding,” explained Chamberlain. She began with those, but knew she’d need more, so she began working with florists, event venues and hotels to give her their “leftovers.”
Then she began gathering volunteers. “I told them this is a very cool thing and assured them they would love it.” She was right. “It is so fulfilling to work with your hands, creating something beautiful, anonymously, just for the joy and the fun of it. Some volunteers have no experience in arranging, and you can see their confidence grow as they realize they have accomplished this awesome thing. I love seeing that transformation within someone,” she shared.
Now thousands of bouquets have been delivered to patients.
The entire project was originally funded by Chamberlain, but as the single mother of five children she soon realized the growing nonprofit needed to ask the generous Coeur d’Alene community for support. She reached back into a sunny place in her own life to find light to guide her new enterprise. “I remembered growing up with 15 brothers and sisters and how wonderful our family dinners were. Friends would join us and we’d extend the table. So I thought, ‘I’m going to gather the community around the dinner table!’” And she did. She christened it Dinner En Blanc and the event promptly sold out. She orchestrated a farm-to-table fundraiser dinner where local vendors, farmers and growers donated produce, time and talent, and served pass-the-platter, family style a five-course meal prepared by five local chefs. Everyone dressed in white and gathered at long, white tablecloth-covered tables in the warm evening air to dine and then enjoy dancing in the street! She chose white as the dressing theme because, “I know without a shadow of a doubt we are all in common here, this will affect us all some day, so I wanted everyone to wear the same beautiful bright, pure, clean color.”
Full Bloom has blossomed into a resounding success. “There are some really touching break-your-heart experiences among these individuals that fuel my resolve to take this work into the world. Several cities in the U.S. have asked us to bring it, and a dozen other countries have asked us if they can do it, too. It’s not just for Coeur d’Alene and Spokane.” She recently traveled to Dallas to give weekend training to a local crew, and soon will be doing the same in North Carolina. “I’m finding loyal, dedicated people in these other cities, networking with florists, and training volunteers,” said Chamberlain. “There is a lot of energy around this—people are drawn to this cause and how it serves their community.”
“It has done wonderful things to my life to be part of something so loving, giving, and selfless,” said Chamberlain. “This is exactly what I need to be doing and who I need to reach. That always confirms to me, ‘Keep on, reach on.’ That’s the energy behind it.”
Long may it bloom!
For information on how to participate, go to www.thefullbloom.org.