Inside the National Arboretum’s ‘Dinner Under the Stars’

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The Friends of the National Arboretum, led by Jeanne Connelly (FONA Dinner Chair), celebrated the Arboretum as an urban oasis for all at this year’s Dinner Under the Stars, a fun and festive dinner for Arboretum supporters, and the only time during the year that Washingtonians can see the sun set over the Arboretum’s picturesque capital pillars.

Congressman Joe Wilson with Jeanne Connelly FONA Dinner Chair
Congressman Joe Wilson with Jeanne Connelly FONA Dinner Chair

The evening took place just past the fragrant Herb Garden at the National Arboretum, a green oasis located just outside of the District’s urban jungle. With or without a complimentary glass of wine, guests were able to take tram tours of the impressive 446-acre landscape before and after the dinner. The tour was lead by long time volunteers, and included fun trivia about the Arboretum: from stories about the residents, such as the family of bald eagles currently nesting on the property, to plants given as gifts from Heads of State like Vladimir Putin.

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This year honored South Carolina and brought several elected officials from the Palmetto State — including Senator Tim Scott, Presidential hopeful Senator Lindsey Graham, and other six South Carolina representatives.

The menu featured classic southern soul food, from pulled BBQ, melt-in-your-mouth shrimp and cheese grits, to sweet corn soufflé and peach cobbler a la mode — leading to empty plates and happily-full stomachs all around.  After the delicious dinner and desert, attendees continued to enjoy the breath-taking surroundings by taking a short walk over to the ancient capital columns.

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The National Arboretum, in addition to serving as a research and education facility, is also a living museum.  Home to the Washington Youth Garden, DC students of all ages participate in local educational outreach everyday of the week. “We began around 45 years ago to engage youth in environmental science and get them talking about and working on healthy initiatives, nutrition, and maintaining sustainable lifestyles,” said Ulises Zatarain, Program Director. However, the veins of the National Arboretum, the Anacostia River beyond sewage runoff, continue to be polluted with chemicals and trash.  The result is damaging, and with little funding to repair the issue, it not only poses a problem for the program, but for our green future.

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Connelly, at this, her last dinner before stepping down from the board, urged donations to save “the green lungs of our capital,” a place where she took her kids — it’s even the backdrop to Connelly’s daughter’s wedding photos — and where her kids now take her grand children.  She pleads: “Cherish it.”

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