Finding a passion for the environment starts with experiencing nature’s great benefits. The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) helps hone that passion by bringing communities outdoors. Through programs like Earth Tomorrow and “Longleaf & the Landowner” where individuals can learn about the benefits of being in nature and how to ensure healthy ecosystems in the future.
These programs are open to anyone interested in conservation and bettering their neighborhood ecosystem. They’re a great way to get people of all backgrounds and experiences involved — representation is paramount to conservation’s success. Because, as NWF Naturalist David Mizejewski says, “We as conservationists are only going to be successful in our work to protect and restore wildlife and wild places when we involve everyone.”
NWF environmental education programs
For over 20 years, the National Wildlife Foundation has taught youth about conservation through Earth Tomorrow, an environmental justice education program. The program aims to better communities through civic engagement and community outreach as well as invite the younger generation to experience the outdoors. More than 5,000 students have participated since 2001. In addition, Earth Tomorrow offers college scholarships for program participants.
Earth Tomorrow Atlanta
If you’ve ever gardened, you know the great benefits it has for your local ecosystem and your personal well-being. But planting native species isn’t always accessible for all. In Atlanta, Earth Tomorrow is making gardening easier with an intergenerational project.
High school students participated in a service project at the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA) for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Students built standing raised garden beds for seniors who wish to garden but may have difficulties bending down to the ground level.
Twenty volunteers completed three standing raised beds under the guidance of WAWA employees, two of whom are alumni of the Earth Tomorrow Program. The students were led by Brendon Barclay, National Wildlife Federation’s manager of education and engagement and co-chair of the Black Employee Resource Group,
Barclay led the students in reflection, asking them what they got out of the day. Many mentioned the project made them want to do more to help their community.
“During reflection, volunteers were reminded that we are stronger together. Especially in times like these, it’s important to pause and reflect on circumstances may cause you to kneel and pray, but get back up because ‘We Shall Overcome,’” Barclay said, referring to the Civil Rights anthem.
Earth Tomorrow Houston
In 2023, 25 Houston high school students participated in a week-long summer institute with Earth Tomorrow that highlighted the city’s culture, history and ecosystem. Students learned about Houston’s history of environmental injustice and saw ways communities and organizations are working to repair these injustices.
In Sunnyside, a historic Black community in Houston, students saw the effects of a 240-acre disused landfill. As the landfill’s soil is unsuitable for farming, Sunnyside residents are taking steps to turn the site into a large solar farm.
Other program highlights included learning about the Gulf Coast’s ecosystem and its wildlife, camping in Brazos Bend State Park and discovering future opportunities through a career fair with various wildlife and environmental organizations. In reflection, many students noted the career fair brought forth career paths they didn’t know existed.
Learn more about career opportunities in conservation with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom Protecting the Wild Co-Host Dr. Rae Wynn-Grant.
Longleaf & the Landowner
National Wildlife Federation’s education isn’t solely focused on youth, as seen through the course, Longleaf & the Landowner. This program is a partnership with Longleaf for All, The Longleaf Alliance, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, The U.S. Forest Service and others to educate landowners about longleaf pine restoration.
Though longleaf pine historically ranged from southeastern Virginia to east Texas. These trees are now only found in small patches of the original range. Restoring the longleaf pine is important to wildlife conservation as more than 30 endangered and threatened species rely on these trees for their habitat.
Longleaf & the Landowner, is for historically and socially disadvantaged landowners and land managers to learn about the South’s history of Black landownership, heirs’ property, estate planning and more. The program was held at Willie Hodges Estate Family Farm in Swainsboro, Georgia. This site was especially meaningful to participants as it showcased a family farm of a Black landowner who is working to restore the longleaf pine.
Course participants learned of barriers and opportunities for minority landowners so they can restore longleaf pine and ensure their properties are managed now and for future generations.
How to build successful ecosystems
A common thread of these NWF programs? Ecosystems thrive when we work together. Through education, the NWF is ensuring more individuals are getting involved in restoring and maintaining healthy ecosystems. Conservation is a space for all and benefits from people of different backgrounds and experiences.
If you’re interested in getting involved in conservation in your community but don’t know where to start, consider building a wildlife garden. These gardens help provide food, water and habitat for many animals, like honeybees.
For more opportunities through NWF, check out its education programs for school-age students and beyond.