Grants boost creative adaptations to COVID-19
Virtual reality. Open air classroom space. Online underwater dives. Local environmental education groups throughout the Puget Sound are eager to reconnect with their students and have been developing strategies to adapt to COVID-19 while also trying to navigate new challenges in raising money when traditional fundraising events are on pause.
The Kitsap-based Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, announced its latest round of grant funding for conservation-focused projects throughout the Puget Sound region. Many of the programs are aimed at outdoor education for youth and are developing innovative strategies to maintain projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Foundation’s community grants program, which shared its 50th anniversary with Earth Day in April, has funded hundreds of projects over the decades. It awards two rounds of grants every year. Level 1 grants of up to $5,000 are typically awarded in April, and Level 2 grants of up to $15,000 are awarded in November.
COVID-19 forced the Foundation to think differently about this year’s applicants. The committee asked applicants to provide additional information about how they would adapt their programming to ensure physical distancing and other reopening requirements. Renee Johnson, the Foundation’s Grant Committee Chair, said the opportunity to support innovative or outdoor-based education holds even greater significance during a time that many people crave outdoor experiences and are more limited in their ability to gather indoors or in large groups. She also said several organizations described how challenging it’s been to raise money without the ability to host traditional fundraising events.
“Our mission is to connect people to healthy ecosystems. We support outdoor environmental education projects that spark a love of nature, and this year we also needed to consider projects that could adapt to this uncertain new normal,” said Johnson. “Conservation education is often face-to-face and hands-on. And at this moment, people are especially eager for outdoor experiences and social connection. But we have to do it differently. Our applicants are all thinking creatively, from reconfiguring classrooms in an open air space to incorporating online learning and virtual reality. We’re extremely proud to partner with and support their work.”
The Foundation received 15 applications for Community Conservation Education Grants. The seven projects awarded funding are:
Friends of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands — $4,000
The Friends of the Anacortes Community Forest is seeking to hire a forest educator to help the organization expand its education program to include multiple field trips for every kindergarten, 3rd and 7th-grade student in the Anacortes School District. They also plan to develop new lesson plans and activities for the programs with the Anacortes Family Center, a nonprofit that serves women, children and families in need of emergency housing.
Friends of the San Juans — $5,000
The Friends of the San Juans are developing a science education program for high school students using virtual reality to connect students with the local marine food web. Students experience the virtual reality of underwater divers and field scientists to observe herring, sand lance, juvenile Chinook and more. The virtual nature of the program makes it possible to adjust the program whether students are in the classroom or learning from home.
Pacific Shellfish Institute — $5,000
The Pacific Shellfish Institute is developing a program for middle school students and community members to monitor the health of the Dungeness Crab population in South Puget Sound using a light trap. The Institute will report crab counts and water quality data weekly and design a web page that allows community scientists to participate in tracking progress, reviewing notes and videos from the field, and engaging with biologists online. Each week, community scientists can collect a new “Critter Card” that provides information about one of the organisms found in the light trap.
Puget Soundkeeper Alliance — $4,000
The Puget Soundkeeper Alliance is expanding its Lost Urban Creeks Project that works with youth as citizen scientists to monitor and improve water quality of urban creeks and waterways. The program has a special focus on marginalized youth and plans to develop an online story map to raise awareness about log and neglected urban waterways.
Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation at Heronswood — $4,000
Grant funds will support community classes at Heronswood that promote conservation and preservation efforts in home neighborhoods, public spaces, old growth forests, nature preserves, and other natural spaces. Community education is one of the organization’s core programs and they plan to transform their classroom into a semi-open air room that can be heated in the fall.
RE Sources for Sustainable Communities — $5,000
RE Sources holds a three-day teacher training workshop in Whatcom County to promote environmental stewardship and climate science instruction. The program includes field learning and they are working with the Northwest Educational Service District to move their program to an online platform they had already piloted last year. The move to an online platform will allow RE Sources to provide their workshop to as many 200 teachers from seven school districts and the Lummi Nation School.
Washington Environmental Council — $4,000
WEC organizes numerous education and outreach events every year as part of Orca Month, which is usually held in April. WEC has shifted to organizing virtual webinars and events such as “Orca Story Time” and is exploring how to adapt other activities to become virtual such as local cleanups.
More information about the Foundation’s grant program, including past recipients, is available in our Grants section.