Tell us a little about yourself and how the pandemic is affecting you.
I'm the director of the Tennessee State Parks Conservancy. I love all things related to the environment, art, equality and animals. The pandemic is affecting me, personally, in many good ways. It is making me be intentional, think more thoroughly and make plans for the future. I'm finding more time for creativity and exercise.
Professionally, it is tough. I am very service and mission driven. It has been hard for me not to see our services be able to reach children. We send kids that are less likely to have access, into state parks for immersive experiences in nature. This year we are not able to do it. I am missing the connection with the children and I know they are missing the connection with their peers and their time in nature.
Tell us about your #MakeWaves project.I'd love to implement an idea I have to have a summer Virtual Junior Ranger camp so kids can still have structure and support to get into nature. I'd like to connect with them in ways we can still teach them about animals, plants and good stewardship of our planet.
We have a partnership with our state parks system and can access former Junior Rangers and local schools to offer this program. It would be free and would allow us to have programs all summer. We will develop checklists of Junior Ranger activities that will be available digitally, by mail and through the parks. These activities will have weekly themes and there will be a weekly check in with the children. At the end of the summer we will have an award ceremony by Zoom and will mail out certificates and pins awarding the children Jr. Ranger status. Many of our park rangers are willing to assist in implementing by providing educational videos. We've tested the idea small scale during a 24-hour day of giving and had 30 participants from all over the state just within that day. We believe that children and their families need this type of stimulation and opportunity this summer, especially since so many activities have been cancelled.
Who inspired your project and what impact would you like to make?
Children and families in Tennessee, specifically those in distressed counties. First, my children. They are adopted and came to us when they were five and six. They found comfort and a second home at a nature camp. I can't imagine any child not having the connection to nature they had. Second, seeing Jr. Rangers connect with each other recently over Zoom, sharing their knowledge and respect that they have about and for nature. They are the next stewards of our state parks and natural areas, and essentially the planet. I believe we need to give them as many opportunities to care for and heal the planet as possible.
We are excited to use innovation to bridge the gap between technology and nature. We will be glad to share stories and photos of our project!