Opening a Nature Center (Finally!)

by Julie Burkhard

I first found out about SEMPBA (Southeastern Massachusetts Pine Barrens Alliance) last summer when I was changing jobs and looking for some volunteer work to keep me busy. I found a post on Volunteer Match saying they were looking for a volunteer to help open their nature center. I was able to help a few times and we were able to move a few things around so that the room flowed a little more, but unfortunately, I couldn’t help for very long. I had started a year of AmeriCorps with TerraCorps and was placed at a site that matched my career interests more. But, when I found myself switching service sites halfway through my year, the universe brought me back to SEMPBA to help finish what I started.

When I arrived at SEMPBA in January, I was glad to see the room was still set up the way we had it last summer, although, it hadn’t been used as a nature center yet. And, when things aren’t being used, they have a tendency to end up as storage. Space and resources are tight in the non-profit world and nothing goes to waste. But it was always SEMPBA’s intention to use this space as a learning center, so that has been my main capacity building project – to get the space up and running and to create a year’s worth of environmental education activities (complete with signage, worksheets and pictures of set ups). Once my service year is a complete, all SEMPBA has to do is find a volunteer to staff the center, but everything will have already been created and documented ahead of time.

The first step was to get the place organized and move things around so that people could move through the space easily. Once we were able to move things around a bit, there were some items like stools and fabric curtains that needed to be bought, so that the space could be used as both storage (hidden behind the curtains) and a learning space (with a place for children to sit). Since we had no budget, we had to ask for some donations, and we were lucky enough to get enough money and in-kind items to get the things we really needed. I was even able to turn the packaging material from the stools into a pine tree for the reading nook. After the room was ready, it was a matter of planning activities and getting the word out. We had our first visitors this past week, and we are expecting more during the upcoming February Vacation Week. It has been very exciting to see this project I started even before I began TerraCorps finally come to life and to help SEMPBA accomplish one of its major goals in a way that can be sustained even after my service year is complete.

Julie is serving as a Youth Education Coordinator at South Eastern MA Pine Barrens Alliance for TerraCorps 2018-2019

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