Sunday, March 25, 2018

Month 15: Willow Bend Environmental Education Center

Jacki and I walked into the Willow Bend Environmental Education Center earlier this month to meet with Moran Henn, Executive Director, and were instead greeted by a sweet dog with warm, brown eyes. I looked around and immediately recognized the signs of what was essentially a classroom with posters and hands-on activities lined up in tubs. Out the window, I could see signs, pathways and many examples of high desert life. Moran came around the corner with a warm hello, and we sat down to talk more about Willow Bend.

The mission of Willow Bend is "... to provide educational outreach services that build environmental awareness and an ethic of responsible stewardship of our natural and cultural resources." According to the Willow Bend website, "It all began with a pond…and a school teacher. In 1975, Jim David, an enthusiastic biology teacher, saw the potential of a muddy, trash filled wash next to Flagstaff Middle School, and set out to restore this small portion of the Rio de Flag as an outdoor classroom for his students." Over the years, this vision grew through many partnerships into what is now the Willow Bend Education Environmental Education Center.

The activities of Willow Bend are diverse, according to Moran. They are a full-time, year-round, environmental education center providing local education for students and adults. Their emphasis is on our watershed here in Flagstaff and on the Colorado Plateau.  They work hard to engage the entire community through many partnerships. Part of their vision (which we have heard from several nonprofits in Flagstaff, which really drives home the unique culture of our community) is that nonprofits should not compete, but should instead collaborate in successful completion of their complementary missions. Willow Bend strives to establish meaningful relationships with government entities, donors and other nonprofits to achieve their mission of environmental literacy.

Willow Bend offers the following educational opportunities:
In-School Programming: Through local contracts, Willow Bend offers standards-based science education to local FUSD schools. They go into the schools to provide lessons and support teachers. Charter schools and other youth groups can also access Willow Bend through service projects, field trips, and scheduling speakers.

Adult WorkshopsGenerally offered monthly, these are hands-on classes (ages 12+). For example, the April workshop will discuss fermentation.  Attendees will learn a skill and take something home in every workshop.  There will also be longer workshops exploring the "Art of Science" where local scientists and artists collaborate on a take-home art project involving different media. Guided tours of Picture Canyon and other locales are also offered.

Science Saturdays: Families are encouraged to come to Willow Bend the first Saturday of every month (at no charge) to explore different themes.  Activities are hands-on, and include experiments that relate to the theme.  This is a great way to get children of all ages involved and participate in community programming.

The outdoor grounds also abound with excellent opportunities for bird-watching (ornithology is a specific area of emphasis for the center). There is also a food garden in the summer that can be explored, along with countless other ways to enrich knowledge of our local ecosystems.

In addition to taking advantage of these great, affordable opportunities to increase your environmental literacy in these times of scary climate change issues, what else can you do?


CASH, of course is always welcome.  There are several very affordable membership opportunities.  Memberships include entry to all Willow Bend activities, and the knowledge that you are supporting some really excellent work in our community. Own a business? Consider becoming a partner by establishing a sponsorship.  

FUNDRAISERS. Go ahead and like the Willow Bend Facebook page to keep up to date on fundraising activities throughout the year. During the fourth week of August, Willow Bend will host its annual celebration which includes food, auction, raffle and other opportunities to support. It takes place at Willow Bend, and is open to the whole community. A 5% fundraiser will take place at Karma Sushi on 9/11/18, as well as other small events that crop up throughout the year.

VOLUNTEER. Visit the website to see how you can bring your expertise to Willow Bend as a guest speaker, volunteer at events, or intern.

DONATION OF GOODS. Moran said that they are always in need of office supplies, craft supplies, books (science-based for kids and adults), binoculars, and microscopes.  See their full wish list for more ideas! Get ready for a happy hour donation drive in the next week or so, where Jacki and I will collect whatever you can share!

Jacki asked one of our favorite questions (which makes some uncomfortable, and Moran, a known local activist and all-around badass, of course did not flinch), "How do you see the current administration impacting organizations such as Willow Bend?" Moran smiled, and said that what Willow Bend teaches is science-based. Nothing they teach will change based on the current administration. They do see federal grants being reduced, and have been working hard to diversify their funding and be less reliant on funds at the national level. "One of the things that is so amazing about Flagstaff is that there is so much support and receptiveness for what we do." She emphasized how lucky we are to live in a community that cares about the environment and seeks opportunities to learn more and be better stewards of the earth.

As we wrapped up our meeting, I looked out the window and saw fast-moving clouds on a blustery, Flagstaff day. I am moved by the reminders of the incredible gifts we are given in our mountain town, and the enormous responsibility that we have to protect it. We encourage all of you to take the chance to provide support to Willow Bend and the very important work that they do on all of our behalves.

- Cristy

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