Durango Nature Studies celebrates its 20th year this year.
For a nonprofit, this is quite a milestone, and like most nonprofits, we have had our ups and downs, we have regrouped and reformed, we have grown in our understanding of our place in the community.
As I reflect on what it takes to be thriving and relevant after 20 years, there are a few key words that come to mind: gratitude, humility and adaptation. I guess nonprofits are not immune to the evolutionary pressures felt by all organisms. For a community-based nonprofit, this means paying attention to what your niche is, looking for partnerships, avoiding overlap and being willing to make changes based on the needs of the community.
Today, more than ever, people need to have a connection with nature. This can come in many forms for many people, but for us, we like to start with helping students have an outdoor experience when learning about the natural world. At our inception, we started providing programs for teachers to bring their classrooms outside.
The key for us has been to create a feedback loop with teachers to make sure we provide the best programs possible. This means tweaking our programs every year to make them better and better. Now, because we work much more closely with school districts than when we started, we are helping teachers with follow-up activities and adding built-in assessments to meet district requirements.
Continuing to do what we do well has paid off. As the state of Colorado looks at ways to bring environmental education into schools and to create partnerships between schools and nature centers, Durango Nature Studies stands to be a model for the state.
We are serving on a regional council to help implement an Environmental Literacy Plan that was adopted by the state Legislature. La Plata County is ahead of the curve in the state for providing an equitable environmental education program for its students, thanks to its willingness to work closely with Durango Nature Studies.
We also have seen the need to make sure kids have a way of sharing their knowledge with their families. Opening the Nature Center to the public three years ago was a way to get families out in nature together with kids showing what they have learned. I guarantee you that La Plata County has one of the most knowledgeable groups of young naturalists around, as most parents of Durango Nature Studies’ students can attest to.
Thanks to a grant for next year, we are offering free Nature Center entry to all school students and their families because we firmly believe that building on a love for nature beyond the classroom is essential to making it stick.
Working with Durango School District 9-R through another grant, we have added middle school programs this year. This has been another step in helping students continue their outdoor learning, as they are able to do field studies and experiments at this age that are enhanced by having a learning laboratory at the Nature Center.
As our after-school and summer enrichment programs continue to have waiting lists each year, we are adding more in 2015. Meeting these needs is an example of sustainable growth.
Sustainability is the key for survival, as most nonprofits will tell you that have been around for this long. Our philosophy remains the same – grow once the need arises and pay attention to feedback. Plus, it helps to live in a community that is generous and supportive of its nonprofits. We exist within the fabric of all the good work that is going on in Durango and have enjoyed seeing sister organizations gain momentum and find their niches. I hope we’ve got another 20 years in us, but for now, we want to reflect on our path and feel gratitude to the people and visions that have formed us.
We’re hosting a free Community Day from noon to 3 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Nature Center with hikes, nature activities and refreshments. Come out and enjoy a beautiful fall day in nature and help us celebrate this 20-year achievement.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 382-9244. Sally Shuffield is executive director of Durango Nature Studies.