By Claudia Hewston
“Why are you here?” “What are you doing?” I had just spent four years going to school to study wildlife biology and was determined to make my way into the field and become an exceptional field biologist. In a sense, we all share a similar dream. We go to school for something that we hopefully love, pour our heart and soul into, and come out with a burning desire to get out and start doing our best work. However, throughout my schooling and early into my career, there were instances in which the work I was doing came under scrutiny. Some would say things like, “Well, that seems like a silly thing to be spending money on”, or “What a waste of time.” I took these comments very personally and initially became defensive. It wasn’t until someone asked me “Why are you here?” and “What are you doing?” that I realized the comments that I had initially perceived as personal attacks were simply a lack of awareness. They didn’t necessarily believe that what I was doing was a waste of time or money, they were simply unable to see the significance of the work I was doing and were thus skeptical of it, as anyone should be.
The lack of awareness that I was detecting in some of the comments in regards to my chosen field of study wasn’t necessarily due to ignorance as much as it was due to a lack of interest. It’s easy for people to overlook the significance of something when they haven’t studied it and seen its relevance to their everyday lives. It is the same lack of interest that I experience when I sit down with my best friend and try to talk marketing, or business. I fail to see the significance not only because of a lack of knowledge, but also a lack of relevance to my everyday life. So the more I thought about it, “Why are you here,” and “What are you doing,” the more I felt I needed to make a change. I started thinking, how can I continue supporting the science that I know and love and at the same time bring greater awareness to the relevance of the subject that I love to inspire more people to take an interest?
Two years later and here I am. I recently moved to Missoula, Montana and have started my second AmeriCorps term with the National Wildlife Federation as the Education and Outreach Assistant. Here, I am able to directly connect with the community in an effort to tackle some of today’s most intimidating and incredibly relevant issues. During my service term, I will engage with teachers and students through Eco-Schools USA, community members and business owners through the Garden for Wildlife program, and numerous others through Connecting Families with Nature programming.
Through the Garden for Wildlife program specifically, we work with homeowners, businesses, schools and a variety of other entities to help transform their pieces of earth into suitable habitat for wildlife. Our goal is to work together to combat one of the most relevant threats that our wildlife face today- habitat loss. The Garden for Wildlife program creates opportunity for us to work together and help create safe corridors throughout neighborhoods, communities, towns and cities; thus allowing us to thrive alongside our wildlife rather than at its expense. We start with gardening because it is impossible to forget that plants are the foundation on which our food web is built. If we can secure a healthy plant community with the purpose of supporting wildlife we are inevitably supporting ourselves.
Since starting my service term with the National Wildlife Federation I have felt fully and completely supported in my passion to work with others, engage the community, and convey the relevance of these programs as they relate to the bigger picture. This is the change I was seeking in attempt to answer, “Why are you here” and “What are you doing?” I am here to serve through engaging the community in ways that they can work with the environment and see the benefits in doing so as they relate to their everyday lives. In conveying this message and illustrating the connections we have to the natural world around us, I hope to instill a stronger and more passionate connection to our natural resources and wildlife within the communities I am serving. I am eager to serve this next year and continue sharing my love, knowledge, and interest in science.