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A fifth-generation local, Charlene Doane is helping others learn about their neighbors (and raise funds for the Ivoryton Library) with the Through the Garden Gate tour of historic homes and gardens in Ivoryton and Centerbrook on Saturday, June 15. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Why do people do it? Maybe an interest in horticulture? Or, maybe interior decorating? Or, maybe just curiosity? For whatever reason, home and garden tours never lose their appeal, and Charlene Doane is grateful for that. She is the co-chair for the upcoming tour, Through the Garden Gate, a tour of historic homes and gardens in Ivoryton and Centerbrook, on Saturday, June 15 to benefit the Ivoryton Library. Leslie Barlow is the co-chair of the event.
The eight sites include a converted carriage house with large perennial and vegetable beds and a view of the Falls River, two Victorian homes, a farmhouse with extensive gardens along the route of the Essex Steam Train, and a home whose owner has turned her front lawn into a large butterfly garden.
“Most of the homes are open, too,” Charlene points out.
In addition, the Ivoryton Library will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with exhibits devoted to the story of village’s once flourishing industrial past as the center for manufacturing products from pocket combs to piano keyboards, all made from imported African ivory.
In addition to co-chairing the garden tour, Charlene is a member of the Ivoryton Library’s board of trustees. In fact, she is treasurer of the board, a position she finds somewhat challenging.
“The last treasurer was an accountant,” says Charlene, who is a middle school guidance counselor in her professional life.
She is, nonetheless, very positive about the library and the work the board does.
“I love libraries,” Charlene says. “They are great community centers; everyone is welcome; you don’t have to join anything, belong to anything. All you have to do is come.”
Charlene grew up in Essex, as have at least five generations of her family. She herself lives in the house her grandfather built. Her father’s house is known for its large garden and also for its grazing sheep.
Growing up, she left gardening to her father. “I figured ‘Why garden?’” she says.
Though she still gets her fresh produce from her father, she now also enjoys working in her own garden.
“I like to plant flowers and see them grow,” she explains.
She is also is surrounded by vegetables on spring and summer weekends because she works as a salesperson at Scott’s farm stand. One day when she was picking flowers from the large serve-yourself bed at the stand, she saw a sign that said help wanted on weekends, and she applied.
“It gets you out of the house. I love to be outside moving around and it is different than my day job,” she says.
During the day, Charlene, who has an undergraduate degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree from Fairfield University, has worked with 8th graders at Polson Middle School in Madison for the last 23 years. In high school, guidance counselors are involved with the college placement process, but in middle school, Charlene’s work often involves working with young teens as they grapple with the social and academic skills they need to flourish in a more adult world.
Charlene works on basic study skills like organizing workloads, keeping track of homework assignments, and handing them in on time. She also runs groups where youngsters can role play as they learn how to incorporate basic social skills.
“Some kids grow up with good social skills; others need help,” she says. “Some kids struggle socially: how to interact with others; how to read [social] clues; what to say.”
Additionally there are times when home life can be so stressful that students need someone to talk to.
“Kids can have a rough time at home; they want to know somebody loves them. They would rather talk to a guidance counselor than cry in a classroom,” she says.
Charlene keeps a supply of tissues and even has stress balls, the little rubber squeeze spheres that are used to relieve nervousness.
“Kids can have a lot of anxiety,” she says.
She loves the work.
“What makes me feel good is helping kids who are having trouble navigating life. I think by high school kids can be on a set path, but middle school is an opportunity to evoke change,” she says.
When she gets home from school, Charlene does the same thing nearly every day. She walks for a half hour in winter, summer, even sometimes in the rain. People now identify her by the activity.
“They say to me, ‘Aren’t you the girl I saw walking?’” she reports.
Charlene’s three children, two daughters and a son, are now grown and she shares her house with Trigger, a cat that appeared to a visitor to have something of a weight issue.
“Just fluffy,” Charlene explains, nonetheless admitting that since her son Ben Clark and his dog moved to Deep River in the winter, the cat has been eating noticeably more.
Ben runs his own business, Deep River Property. Charlene’s daughter Heidi Clark is a freshman at Bryant College and her daughter Allison Clark, a graduate student, is studying international business in Germany.
Charlene has visited Germany twice and a number of other European countries, but would like to visit Italy, see the Northern lights and “travel to pretty much anywhere.”
When her children were young, Charlene was involved in many of their activities, among them serving as treasurer of the Little League, which involved running the concession stand and keeping track of the money.
“That’s why I thought I could be treasurer of the Library,” she says, admitting she now knows the two positions are quite different.
These days she volunteers once a month at the Shoreline Soup Kitchen at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Essex.
On the day of the garden tour, Charlene says as co-chair she will be running around seeing everything proceeds smoothly. All the things the committee can arrange are arranged, but there is one thing Charlene knows nobody can control.
“I hope it is good weather,” she says.
Through the Garden Gate
Through the Garden Gate, a tour of historic homes and gardens in Ivoryton and Centerbrook to benefit the Ivoryton Library, is on Saturday, June 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Some parking at the Ivoryton Congregational Church, 57 Main Street, Ivoryton; a shuttle bus will transfer participants to different sites. Limited parking is available at the sites. Advanced tickets ($25) are available at Ivoryton Library by calling 860-767-1251 or at the library the day of the tour, $30.
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