Folks are all aflutter at Martha Turner Reily Elementary these days, and it’s not just because the new school year has started. They’re selling butterfly chrysalises this month, to raise money for their school garden.

Where’d they ever get such an idea?

It’s the brainchild of Tony Delia, East Dallas resident, school volunteer and, as he’s known to many, butterfly guy. Delia raises butterflies in his back yard, collecting caterpillars at White Rock Lake and taking them home to watch them develop into butterflies. He also sells chrysalises (also known as cocoons), which retail for $35 each, through two local florists.

Delia’s interest in lepidoptery is just one of many. A pilot of his own plane, he also is a piano student, is certified in SCUBA and plans to begin hang gliding lessons this fall. But the adventure lover wanted to add community service to the mix.

“I feel that God has richly blessed my life in many areas, and I had been thinking about a way to give back to the community for some time,” he says. “I prayed for the right opportunity to come to me, and when Helen Stetler got in touch with me, I believe that was it.”

Stetler is Reily’s volunteer coordinator, and she was led to him through a mutual acquaintance. “Tony is just a great guy, with boundless energy,” she says. “I think it’s fabulous for someone who doesn’t even have a kid here to be so involved. It’s very rare.”

After completing volunteer training, Delia began tutoring fifth-graders a couple of times a week. As fate would have it, fifth-grade chair Kathy Coker is also the teacher in charge of the school’s garden. When she told him about it, he decided to help out there, too.

He now teaches students how to care for various plants and maintains the butterfly garden, which he added so students could learn the development process. “Most of our kids live in apartments and never see things planted or growing,” Stetler says. “They just go crazy, helping to make the garden. Tony has really become our inspiration.”

His help came none too soon. Though students and teachers loved the garden, situated near a windowed walk-way between buildings for excellent visibility, none of them had much time to care for it. “The gardens weren’t really being tended to well in the winter and summer,” he says. “With no sprinklers, teacher would have to go out there every day to water it.”

Delia realized a daily water supply was needed. So he single-handedly began raising money for a sprinkler system, collecting more than $2,000 for the project through personal contacts and clients of the Oak Lawn beauty salon where he works.

But he was facing a total expenses of $3,400, for both the sprinklers and a reading arbor he wanted to add. To raise the extra funds, he decided to host the plant and chrysalis sale. He’s involving students in raising items for the sale. He’s involving students in raising items for the sale, so they can learn more about butterflies while helping their school at the same time.

All the work he’s put into the school seems to be paying off for both the recipients and giver.

“It’s been really rewarding and a lot of fun,” Delia says. “The students wrote me thank you letters, and it was really something. I almost cried when I read them, they were so touching.”

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