Carly shared her story via our Milwaukee Nonprofit Spotlight questionnaire.
For over five years, Riveredge Nature Center has partnered with the Lutheran Urban Mission Initiative (LUMIN) to provide hands-on outdoor learning experiences to nearly 1,200 students in grades K4-8th per school year throughout its five schools. The partnership was driven by leadership within the Robert and Josephine Pieper Foundation who sought to provide a nature-based education experience for LUMIN students. This program was allowed to flourish this school year, in particular, thanks to additional funding provided by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation.
Through this partnership, LUMIN teachers have observed learning that builds from one year to the next. They are seeing their students remember lessons learned at Riveredge well beyond their experience, and they are applying those lessons in the classroom. This ability to recall experiences in nature and build on them is crucial to the ongoing development of youth as environmentally literate citizens. It is a skill difficult to nurture in urban settings and would likely go undeveloped without the partnership between our organizations. For many urban youth, a first-time visit to Riveredge can cause anxiety from a fear of the unknown. This lack of exposure to natural environments often leaves students accepting negative connotations drawn from social influences and an overall unfamiliarity with the outdoors. However, through repeat exposure to hands-on inquiry based learning experiences, Riveredge is able to shift comfort level and generate enthusiasm for outdoor learning among participating students who may not otherwise have experience in nature-based programming.
How has your work in the nonprofit sector inspired you?
I consider myself fortunate to witness first-hand the transformation that takes place when a child is able to experience “wild Wisconsin” for the first time. It is not uncommon for students who visit Riveredge to move from uncomfortable to a place of wonder, acceptance, and even awe of the natural world after a seemingly small amount of time. I believe providing these experiences to all children are what will help us, as a society, build a more connected, empathetic next generation. Similarly, research shows that these experiences with nature at an early age can make lasting impacts on learning outcomes and social/emotional development. We hope that the opportunities we provide at Riveredge inspire students to maintain that “sense of wonder” and continue to explore “nature” in their own backyards.
How have you or your organization been involved in NPC? How has NPC helped you?
I first learned about NPC through a workshop on program evaluation that was hosted during winter of 2016. Our Executive Director, Jessica Jens, encouraged that I attend because my position at Riveredge Nature Center focuses on evaluation and measuring impact in education programs like the one mentioned here. Since then, I have attended at least one other workshop on building graphic logic models to improve grant applications. My involvement with NPC has allowed me to stay connected to current trends, learn from industry leaders, and network with professionals whom I may not otherwise have had the opportunity to meet.