By Green Team Member Robin Liao

During these uncertain times, the actions of many groups, including the Hammond Green Team have been affected. It was for this reason that we decided to contact the Robinson Nature Center to see what they have been working towards during this time, and got some useful insight into the Center’s current operations from Program Manager Meagan Downie via email. 

The first question we sent Ms. Downie asked about any current programs or opportunities that would be of interest to the Hammond High School community. She explained that, much like most facilities during this time, the Robinson Nature Center has had very limited on-site programming due to COVID-19 gathering restrictions. These include limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings to 25. However, this did not mean there was nothing to do, as she notably mentioned a weekly volunteering opportunity known as “Gardening Get-Togethers” on Thursday and Saturday mornings where individuals can help maintain the many gardens and trails around the nature center while earning volunteer hours! 

Moving on, we also asked about the Nature Center’s own experience with the Coronavirus whilst trying to operate. This is where we learned that the Nature Center was used as an emergency childcare center for first responders, who were unable to stay at home due to their vital importance in combating the virus. She elaborated on this, writing “From April – June, our staff along with staff from our Department’s Recreational Licensed Childcare staff, provided care for the children of these workers. After the school year ended, the Center transitioned into a reopening phase,” adding that, “we have had to completely rethink how we reach our patrons with programming being so limited.” She finished this question by explaining how they were adapting by making take-home ‘Nature Crates’ to help engage families with activities that would normally take place within the center itself. 

When asked about what students can do virtually, she stated that this is where the pandemic has had one of the largest impacts overall. They have a few virtual field trip offerings for elementary students but they have not had the chance to plan any virtual materials for individuals at the high school level. 

Our fourth question was centered around plans for the nature center once the effects of the pandemic had lapsed. Ms. Downey would go on to explain a future opportunity to engage high school students known as the “Robinson On The Road” experience that would allow the nature center to more directly communicate with local high school communities by bringing a portable experience to schools. This will allow the center to reach many high school students that are simply too busy to come out to conventional field trips. 
Finally, we asked if there was any new information that she or the Nature Center felt high school students need to know right now.

To this, she responded with an inspiring message of hope during this disconcerting era of the virus. She wrote, “Know this: You are an amazing generation, and having weathered this pandemic during your high school years will make you much stronger and more resilient than many of the generations before you. You are entering adulthood during a critical time in history, and you have the potential to – through your own actions and those you model for others – change the future’s outcome…” Her entire closing message, which I would highly recommend, along with the full question and answer set can be found here for interested readers.