By Dawn M Chiossi
Inspiring ordinary people to use their talents and energies to help the environment, West Orange’s Turtle Back Zoo is partnering with Rutgers offering their 2019 Environmental Stewards Program.
It is no secret that the state of the environment is deeply concerning to so many, it’s problems and issues affect humans and animals alike. In simple terms, the environment is like a house; if people do not take care of it, it will fall apart. The data and information regarding the environment is often so confusing, so overwhelming, that even the best meaning people who want to help often just give up.
There is a more uplifting option out there, the 2019 Environmental Stewards Program. With this worthwhile program, there’s no need to be a scientist or have a scientific background at all. It is for ordinary people who just have the desire to make a difference, to see what they could do to improve the environment.
Since 2005, the Rutgers Environmental Stewards Program has trained approximately an impressive 600 volunteers in important environmental issues affecting New Jersey, so they can help solve environmental problems in their own communities. The 2019 program will be held at the Turtle Back Zoo located at 560 Northfield Avenue in West Orange. Classes will run for 20 weeks on Tuesday evenings February through June from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m.
According to Rutgers County Agent, Amy Rowe, The Environmental Stewards Program has been going on for approximately 11 years, and this is the first year they partnered with West Orange Turtle Back Zoo, and it is a perfect pairing indeed.
“Turtle Back Zoo is committed to providing an enriching recreational experience that fosters excellence in wildlife education and wildlife conservation. This so that this present generation and future generations are inspired to understand, appreciate and protect the connection between all living things.” Rowe shares.
Warm and passionate regarding the classes, Rowe explains when the program first began, they had only approximately 9 students involved. But in recent years, the program has expanded and become quite popular. Training sessions are taught by experts from Rutgers University and non-profit and government organizations.
Class topics include climate change, soil health, energy conservation, water resource protection, invasive species, wildlife management, habitat conservation, protecting pollinators, and much more.
In addition to the classes, Rowe mentions that the program will feature guest lecturers and field trips, including to South Jersey’s Pinelands, chosen for their protected area, endangered species, and unique ecosystem, as well as much more.
Rowe explains that she looks forward to the Environmental Stewards Program every year, and the thing that she is most excited about is the giving back element, where after more than 60 hours of training for volunteer projects, members can be an advocate for the environment. “The volunteer projects are tailored to the volunteer’s specific interests,” she explains. “That way they will always been engaged and excited about their project. If a person is interested in clean water, then they will learn so much.”
“There are no set specific rules for projects,” Rowe explains. “Some are a two-person project, while some are just individual, with no time limits: The idea is just to have volunteers envelop themselves in hands-on work. Some participants are so enthusiastic after they finish their classes and projects that they do on do so much more for the environment on their local levels and beyond,” she enthuses.
Some past projects included cleanups of waterways, rain gardens, projects involving trees and pollinator habitats of Monarch Butterflies. There’s so much to accomplish that participants are only limited by their own imaginations.
Projects are subjective, wherever the participant’s interest or passion, that is the project that the Rowe wants to see.
“Some of them are quite creative and fun,” she shares. “There were even participants who were so concerned about the rising sea levels, they created an interactive game that people can play all while learning at the same time. This program is exciting,” Rowe remarks.
“All of our participants have their own perspectives and experiences. It’s exciting to see our participants discussing, engaging and participating–taking their tools and resources from the program and working hard to make a difference in our environment.”