Julia Burns is one of CNC’s longest-tenured volunteers, having served in various roles over the last 13 years. Upon hearing her gentle voice and seeing her warm smile, her role as a lifelong educator who loves children and nature becomes apparent. As a teacher for 42 years, she embraces the belief that “teachers do not teach; they facilitate learning opportunities.” This is at the heart of her work with CNC.
She was first introduced to CNC in the 1980s when she brought her children to the long-running autumn family festival, Halloween Hikes. Back then, the Center had one small building and a fraction of the displays and programs offered today. Yet, this experience instilled in her heart the desire to volunteer, and she brought her children back time and again over several years to feed the ducks, enjoy the honeybee viewing stations, and have picnics. According to Julia, every visit to CNC is unique. Visitors can choose to be introspective and reflective, or they can choose to engage and interact. In either case, “CNC is a safe space, both emotionally and physically. You can choose to experience it solo or with others.” She goes on to say, “Everything CNC does offers enrichment and clarification and dispels misconceptions. It is a place to think critically, to build relationships and community.”
Now a Docent, Julia is often seen on campus with her biofacts cart filled with animal pelts, snake skins, and raptor feathers, among other interesting educational pieces. She takes special care to engage the adults that accompany children. “Parents are a child’s first teacher,” she says. She notes the importance of their education so that they, too, can become facilitators and models of lifelong learning. Julia feels that every CNC guest leaves with a heightened awareness of the impact of human behavior on our environment. For this reason, she cherishes dressing up as Mother Earth each year at CNC’s Halloween Hikes, where she bids farewell to each guest and encourages them to appreciate the earth and protect and preserve its resources.
CNC’s staff and volunteers work as a unit to facilitate building lifelong connections through its intrinsic welcoming nature. We recognize that everyone has value, and no one is turned away. “We don’t blame; we analyze, reflect, and get things done,” Julia says, which she attributes to good leadership and support, open communication, and civil discourse. She says that at CNC, we do not give up. We trust each other, work collectively and cooperatively, and do our best for each other and the animals. As everything in nature constantly changes and adapts, we must also always be learning.
Check out the volunteer page for more information on available volunteer opportunities and how to apply.
Raising Awareness Through Girl Scout Silver Award Project
Chattahoochee Nature Center thrives with the support of volunteers. Many of our amazing volunteers are local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts working toward earning hours and achieving awards. One scout, Elizabeth Williams, approached CNC to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award and proposed a project to help collect trash that accumulates in CNC’s wetlands and bring awareness to the issue.
Scouts work with CNC staff to develop their ideas and execute their plans. Elizabeth has been working in CNC’s wetlands every Saturday, along with her mother and brother, to clean litter out of the wetlands. Mark Gialanella, CNC’s Education Programs Supervisor, has been working with her since early 2023 to support her project and asked her to share some of her experience. It’s not always a pretty picture – working with litter – and it’s an issue that Elizabeth and her brother Gabriel want to help bring to light. Read below on their volunteer experience and challenge yourself to consider the following questions: How do I contribute to this problem, for better or worse? What can I do in my community to help reduce litter? How would our natural spaces be different if we reconsidered our trash?
Below is Elizabeth’s reflection on her project so far. Elizabeth is a 7th-grade student from Marietta, GA.
“Every Saturday, my mom, my brother, and I clean up the litter around the boardwalk area of the nature center. I am doing it as a Girl Scout project, and I somehow managed to convince my mom and brother to help. We often get strange looks, and sometimes people seem suspicious, gracious, or even guilty. However, one thing no one ever does is stop and help.
I don’t think people realize the impact that littering, even once, can have. It is obvious that any trash will pollute the river habitat, and yet we find tons of it. Some of the most common items we find are Styrofoam, plastic water bottles, tennis balls and baseballs. All these are items that can be thrown away on a whim – without much consideration – but litter builds up. While you may rationalize, and say it is only one bottle, so will the next hundred people, and a hundred bottles are now washing up in your local wetland.
Nature nonetheless seems resilient. Although I’ve only been doing this for long enough to see one season change, it was fascinating seeing new wildlife, like turtles and deer, and the tons of blooming flowers. Sometimes even the trash is interesting, like the excess of men’s shoes we find almost every time we go.
What can you do, even if you don’t litter? You can just be more aware of how you dispose of your trash. When eating outside, just make sure nothing is left behind, and nothing blows or rolls away. Make sure you’re disposing trash in trash bins and or trash bags that are secure and don’t have a risk of tipping over or overflowing. Most of this seems obvious, but based on our experience, actually picking up litter is not something people consider. While littering is not socially acceptable, we still have a long way to go towards normalizing trash pickup.”
Elizabeth’s brother, Gabriel, 8, also reflected on his experience supporting his sister’s work.
“One Saturday morning we found a shoe, while volunteering to clean up the boardwalk. The next Saturday morning, we also found a shoe. The next Saturday morning, we found a shoe. Every time my and I go to the CNC we have found at least one shoe. Never from the same pair, though. Where are all these shoes coming from?
There is a lot more surprising trash. For example, we found a gallon jug, but did not find what liquid it used to hold. We talk a lot while we pick up trash, and what we talk most about is perhaps where the trash comes from. Maybe the trash comes from the Chattahoochee River. That is our leading suspicion.
Please be reminded that you will probably not see a shoe if you are on a quick walk. You would need to look closely. Is it a good idea to look closely? Short answer or long answer? I will give you both. Short answer: if you are on a casual walk, do it; if you are picking up trash, do it. Long answer, picking up trash is a nice thing to do. And a lot of people already do it. So yes, going back to the short answer, it is. You might as well look closely.
In conclusion, I say that if you go to the CNC, just enjoy your time there because while no place is litter free, the CNC is almost perfect. Just listen to the birds singing in the spring and see the flowers bloom. Enjoy your time there.”
CNC is grateful for the help of these young volunteers. They help provide a clean, safe habitat for wildlife and an enjoyable, litter-free nature experience for CNC guests. But their work is just the beginning, and there is always more work to be done. We invite you to get involved!
Be an informed consumer and shop with litter in mind – choose items that are package-free or are in packaging that can be composted, recycled, or reused.
Volunteer to support a local cleanup!
Dispose of trash properly; recycle what you can where you can.
To talk with others and encourage them to join you in reducing waste.
Doing just one of these things will make a difference. Learn more about actions you can take at Keep Georgia Beautiful Foundation. Thank you to Gabriel and Elizabeth for your work at CNC, and thank you to our many volunteers who work to keep CNC’s property looking its best. You can volunteer with CNC, too! Check CNC’s website for volunteer opportunities such as habitat restoration, horticulture support, and much more.
Recognizing an Outstanding Member of the CNC Community
By Patricia Fulton, Volunteer Specialist
Each year hundreds of volunteers come out to the Chattahoochee Nature Center. They arrive early on Tuesdays and Thursdays to tend our Unity Garden, which produces 4 tons of fresh produce annually for the North Fulton Community Charities. They sign up monthly to guide guests on nature walks and remove invasive species from the grounds, and a lucky few report to the Wildlife Department to assist in caring for our wildlife rescue patients.
CNC also has volunteers who come throughout the year to help with special events. This year, I had the privilege of meeting Brandon C. at our Annual Water Drop Dash 5K. He stood out because out of the 65 volunteers we had enlisted to help with the 5K, he was the only one who stepped forward to don our iconic, oversized, furry opossum costume. Every year the opossum costumed character and the Belted Kingfisher character entertain the children, high-five the runners, and delight the crowd with their playful antics at the races.
This year, a severe storm came through the morning of the Water Drop Dash 5K. Thunder rumbled, and lightning lit up the sky as the rain came pouring down. Despite the weather, right at 5:30AM, headlights cut through the dark, and a line of cars appeared as dedicated volunteers arrived to set up for the race. We huddled indoors for the first thirty minutes as we waited for the storm to pass, and I got the chance to talk to Brandon, our designated opossum for the day.
Brandon heard about the annual Water Drop Dash 5K through work. A group of his co-workers had signed up to run the race. He wasn’t quite ready to don a pair of running shoes, but he wanted to support his co-workers, so he signed up to volunteer and brought along his sister and a friend to volunteer with him. As it turns out, this wasn’t Brandon’s first time at the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
When he was in 7th grade at Sweetwater Middle School, his science class took a field trip to CNC for a unit on ecosystems. They learned how organisms in the Chattahoochee Watershed play different but crucial roles that affect one another, directly or indirectly, and how nutrients are transmitted up the food chain. He recalled being walked through the exhibits by a staff member who went into detail on how species that inhabit the Chattahoochee Watershed are connected as if through a “web”. He jokingly added that it was in their schedule to walk outside to Beaver Pond when a huge downpour (not unlike the one we were caught in) caught them off guard, and they had to run back inside. He said he left the Chattahoochee Nature Center that day with a memory of the wildlife and natural beauty of the river.
The storm passed. Our volunteers went out to guide the runners to registration. Brandon put on the opossum costume, walked down to high-five and fist-bump the runners, and entertained the children. He did a fantastic job as an oversized opossum.
What I loved about Brandon’s volunteer story is how his trip from middle school connected him to the Chattahoochee Nature Center. His childhood experience made him want to come out to be a part of it again (even if it meant donning an oversized, furry costume of an opossum in the middle of a storm).
I want all our volunteers to know that each one of them is important. They perform different but crucial roles at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, which affects the people who visit us directly and indirectly, which means they, too, are part of an intricate “web” that connects us all.
Docents have an interest in the natural world and a passion to share it with others
By Christie Hill, Naturalist Manager
Docents come to us in all ages and stages of life. All have an interest in the natural world and a passion to share it with others. Our docents are CNC ambassadors whose role is to be here to interact with our visitors.They know how to light a spark in others’ imagination, giving just enough information to encourage the interest to learn more. There is so much to enjoy about nature and docents are skilled in helping others find a connection to it.
What are the rewards you gain from being a CNC docent?
One CNC docent had this to say: Associating with bright, lively, and interesting people! The interaction with guests, and the satisfaction of being able to answer questions and introduce others to the natural world. Seeing their pleasure in learning things and listening to what they have to share—that’s one of the main aspects of being a docent. Interacting with all age groups keeps you on your toes!
CNC has been in operation for almost 50 years now and has grown with the community. The people here are professionals, generous with their knowledge, and fun to be around! This is an impressive docent program that gives one the flexibility to work within your own schedule.
If you are interested in learning more about becoming a Docent at CNC, check out our volunteer page and complete an application! Orientations are held twice a year and our next one is coming up soon in February 2023. We would love to welcome you to this rewarding opportunity to connect people with nature!
At CNC, we are thankful to all of our volunteers who help out in a variety of ways. We asked Bea Hatcher, one of our talented Naturalists to tell us about her experience as a grounds volunteer. Here is what she had to say.
On Wednesdays at 8AM, we meet at the Chattahoochee Nature Center sign in front of the Discovery Center. Pat Carson comes with her “can-do attitude”, Dan Prucha brings his little bag of saws, shovels, and gloves. We are greeted by Jacqueline McRae, Grounds Manager and Horticulturalist with her endearing accent that is difficult for me to not fall into, and Caston who started this year for the Grounds Crew.
There are only a few of us that come and go as work schedules (and life schedules) permit- Dan is the regular while Pat and I come and go. Our fearless leader introduces us to the day’s plan- giving us the Latin and common names of these weeds or the invasive we will be pulling out today- stories about how they came to the US or why they are problematic for the area that they are growing in.
Pat gets started yanking Wisteria sinensis from around the Barred Owl aviary. Have you ever seen Pat pull old vines out of bushes and trees around the Nature Center? I stand back in awe of that lady often- sometimes saying out loud my hopes of being able to do half of what this retirement-aged woman is doing right now. “Just put your weight into it” she tells me. We talk about what we’ve been doing over the week in our own yards- pulling Hedera helix (English Ivy) and experimenting with ways to take out non-native bamboos. Jacqueline sets Dan on some older privets and then the final blow to the main stem of the invasive Wisteria. Dan can saw through an invasive mess quickly, load up the trusty old pickup truck, and then do that all over again. All along I’m just pulling Chamberbitter and brushing stinging ants out of my pant legs. Dan says you can tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ants from getting into your shoes- you don’t look cool but at least you’re comfortable. That’s a bit of wisdom for you.
That’s what you get if you are a grounds volunteer- a bit of wisdom. Sometimes it comes in the form of how to bring pollinators into your yard with beautiful Southeastern US native plants- sometimes you learn what not to plant or how invasive plants can get out of hand. Often- for me- it’s the encouraging people I can talk to and learn from. Sure, I’ve learned a ton about plants-but I’ve learned more about what kind of gardener I want to be, what kind of person I hope to become, keeping humor in hard work, and where I can source conkers should I want to take up a new hobby. Henning stops by and shares how Aralia spinosa (Devils Walking Stick) has been keeping plant predators away for millennia.
This is what I came looking for as a Volunteer. I was a volunteer first before applying for a Naturalist position at the Nature Center. You know that saying “love at first sight”? Yeah, I had that with CNC- turns out that this happens to people- some of my favorite people now. As a Naturalist I have been able to apply my volunteer experience to my programs and my own yard- I know where the Longleaf Pines are, why grasses and Rattlesnake Master go well together, and that Beauty Berry attracts a variety of birds to your yard. My kids were starting public school for the first time in August 2021- up until that point I had been a Stay at Home Mom / Homeschool Mom for nearly seven years. My husband, Luke, and I had bought our first house in October 2020- I was struggling along with my neglected yard- pulling out Euonymus alatus (Burning Bush), Mahonia, Bamboo, and English Ivy. I was ready to learn more about the native plants of Georgia and take back my yard for pollinators, insects, and birds. Pat, Dan, and Jacqueline taught me that I wasn’t alone in my struggle for making peace with my small impact.
The best thing about CNC and a big part of why I love this place so much is really the people. We get this amazing up-close nature experience but behind it is this incredible heartbeat of passionate and compassionate people.
The best way to learn something new is to jump in and get your hands dirty. Maybe you’re new to native plants, learning about pollinators, enjoy challenging gardening projects, and get a sense of satisfaction from giving an overgrown Multiflora Rose a bad day? I would encourage anyone to join us on Wednesday mornings at 8!
In 2019, a citizen science project was launched studying eastern kingsnakes in Metro Atlanta called The Urban Kings Project. Since then, hundreds of community members have participated by reporting sightings of their neighborhood kingsnakes. This year be the fourth and final year of data collection for the project. Here is everything you need to know about Urban Kings and how you can get involved!
What is The Urban Kings Project? The Urban Kings Project is a citizen science research project based in Metro Atlanta trying to learn more about how eastern kingsnakes are impacted by increasing urbanization. Kingsnakes are commonly found in urban and suburban areas and seemed to have adapted to city life. This project aims to understand how these snakes are surviving in urban spaces and how urbanization overall can impact wildlife. Urban Kings is a collaborative project based out of Clemson University working in partnership with the Chattahoochee Nature Center, Kennesaw State University, and Georgia DNR.
Where is The Urban Kings Project located? For this final year of the project, Urban Kings is focused on reports from Cobb, Fulton, South Cherokee, and Paulding counties.
What do I do if I see a kingsnake? If you see a kingsnake in the counties above, please call Urban Kings while you see the snake if possible. The Urban Kings team will try to come out and respond to collect additional information on each snake. You can reach us by calling (404)-556-1863 or (678)-315-2020.
When you see a kingsnake, please take a photo and send it to Urban Kings with the date and exact location of the sighting. This information is not shared and is used in a private kingsnake population database. Please send your photo to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
What does it mean to “collect data” on the snakes? The data Urban Kings collects on each snake is a general health assessment, length and weight, and a genetic sample in the form of a small scale clip. For humans, this is the equivalent of clipping a fingernail. Each snake is swabbed and tested for Snake Fungal Disease, which is a disease that is impacting snakes globally. Snake Fungal Disease is not contagious to people or other animals but can be passed from snake to snake. When possible, the Urban Kings team will also collect fecal samples from the snake, which can tell us a lot about what the snake has been eating! After responding to a snake call, data collection is done in a controlled and clean setting (like CNC’s Wildlife Clinic) rather than in the field to minimize stress for the snake. This means that the snake is typically taken for a day or two and then returned to the exact location they were found.
Are snakes harmed, killed, removed, or relocated? Never! No snakes are harmed, killed, removed, or relocated in any aspect of the project.
What if I find a deceased kingsnake (hit by a car, cat/dog caught, human interaction, etc.)? Please call Urban Kings! Even deceased there is still a lot to learn from these snakes. To name a few, we can see if they were healthy, what they were eating, if it was male or female, and test it for diseases. Deceased specimens are taken to the Georgia Museum of Natural History in Athens, Ga where people can learn from them for years to come.
What do I do if I find an injured kingsnake? If you find an injured kingsnake, safely place the snake in a container and take the snake to the CNC Wildlife Clinic. In addition to calling Urban Kings, call the clinic to let them know you are coming. The number for the CNC Wildlife Clinic is (770) 992-2055 x239.
If I’m visiting the Chattahoochee Nature Center, what do I do if I see a kingsnake on the grounds? The Urban Kings team has been fortunate over the last few years and has collected data on numerous kingsnakes on CNC’s property. If you see a kingsnake on the grounds at CNC, take a photo of the snake, make note of its exact location (dropping a point on a map is helpful), and send this information with the date you saw it over to Urban Kings.
How can I help? 1. Report kingsnakes! Please call when you see kingsnakes to report and email photo sightings to the project. 2. Spread the word! Please share information about the project with your community. If you have a neighborhood Facebook page or something similar, sharing the project flyer there is a great help.
Why is this project important? How will this information be used? Rapid development increases the overlap between humans and wildlife, often leading to unnecessary conflict. This pattern is increasingly evident in cities across the world, especially those such as Atlanta which have an enormous metropolitan buffer. With your help, we plan to combine information about Kingsnake health and movement to begin building a type of risk map for informing current and future development plans. Our hope is to provide evidence for the requirements of small species of wildlife living in urban areas which can be merged into future development goals. Kingsnakes are our target species, but this information can be applied to many other small species of wildlife living in cities across the southeastern US. Additionally, we hope to strengthen community awareness surrounding the needs of common backyard wildlife by educating people all across the metro Atlanta region, and by encouraging community members to engage in research-based solutions to development-driven issues.
For questions or additional information, please feel free to reach out to Bryan Hudson or Samantha Kennett, or check out the project’s facebook page: facebook.com/UrbanKingsProject.
As we reach National Volunteer Week 2022, we wanted to take the time to thank all of our dedicated volunteers who help keep CNC afloat. Our volunteers make it possible for us to have wonderful exhibits, care for our animals, give back to the community, and provide camp support, programs, and learning opportunities for all ages. Throughout the week, we will be recognizing different volunteer groups at CNC.
The first volunteer group we wanted to recognize is our Master Gardeners, who are an amazing team led by Cheryle Kerr and Mike Sumpter.
The opportunity for social interactions, to meet and make new friends with an element of surprise and delight as familiar plants come back up in springtime as well as the ones we forgot we planted. This is the driving force that brings a team of Master Gardeners to CNC weekly to maintain the Butterfly Gardens.
They say the constant flow of opportunities to learn more about “all things nature” as they work together at CNC can’t be beaten and they’ve been busy here since 2002! One member of this energetic group was the first-ever recruit to volunteer with Horticulture at CNC back 26 years ago – Go Sally Griffith!
There’s always something to work on and someone to work with in the Butterfly Garden. The nature center is thankful for their help with the hardscape too. You can also find the Master Gardener team at our Spring and Fall native plant sales too after working tirelessly in the days prior to set us all up for success.
Collectively this group is fulfilling a mission statement that includes continuing education and they’re simultaneously satisfying personal ambition as they go beyond garden maintenance. “This is more than gardening,” says one volunteer and the others agree while pulling weeds. Everyone agrees that seeing how the native Georgia plants we are growing fit in with the bugs and birds around us is a highlight. Creating a beautiful garden to inspire and delight CNC visitors is a side benefit!
In honor of Volunteer Appreciation Week, we have been recognizing our volunteers and all of the great work that they do at CNC. Today we wanted to highlight the Unity Garden volunteers.
The Unity Garden provides a necessary service in its production and donation of fresh, healthy produce to members of our surrounding community through North Fulton Community Charities. The Unity Garden has supplied over 10 tons of produce since it began! In this article, Jacqueline McRae, Grounds Manager and Horticulturalist provide some insight into what being a Unity Garden volunteer is all about and how it benefits our community.
Big smiles as a longtime volunteer exclaimed “I just harvested my first ever cabbages!”.
This group of volunteers treasures their time working in the Unity Garden. They unanimously agree that nobody should go hungry and they are more than happy to give up a couple of hours a week to help with weeding, planting, and harvesting.
When asked why they volunteer with us they gave a million good reasons, including but not limited to:
“This is where I get my gardening fix”
“I needed to get out”
“I can’t wait to see the phenomenal summer harvest”
“The celebrity status when I arrive at the Foodbank with the produce we grew”.
One volunteer who was a former teacher shared that it is rewarding to see the visiting children get excited about the vegetable garden and to see their faces when they learn where the food is going. Opportunity abounds for learning and teaching as well as for getting dirt under your fingernails, which may not be possible at home.
These volunteers are proud of the super fresh food that is picked in the morning and on a dinner table by evening. Camaraderie is high on the list of reasons to be cheerful about volunteering, even in the hot summers and cold winter months.
We would like to thank the Unity Garden volunteers including those new to gardening and the seasoned gardeners for keeping the Unity Garden productive, tidy, educational, fun, and weed-free. The volunteers share a true sense of purpose and for some in retirement, a renewed sense of belonging to a meaningful and dedicated group.
Volunteers work hard to provide service to the community and help make a difference in society’s many challenges. CNC is especially grateful to our many volunteers who help keep us going all through the year. They do it all by creating programs, assisting visitors, wearing costumes, mailing envelopes, tending to campers, leading hikes, and growing healthy food. During National Volunteer Week, April 17-23, we want to celebrate and honor the volunteers that give their time and talents to CNC!
In this volunteer spotlight, we would like to focus on our volunteers in the education department. Christie Hill, Naturalist Manager at CNC gave rave reviews for her volunteers, Lauren and Anna.
Read on to find out Christie’s thoughts on her talented volunteers.
Lauren and Anna have been amazing additions to our Education Team this school year! I have continued to be impressed by their innovation and commitment to sustainability. These young environmentalists are not just thinking or talking about these weighty concepts, but their chosen lifestyles make them role models for their peers.
Lauren is thoughtful, determined, and takes on any project with quiet fervor. She has researched many areas of consumerism and choices we could be making in our daily lives. She is up to date on the current best practices in recycling and has given us a game plan for improving our methods.
Anna has her own sandwich-making business to support needy communities. She is passionate about marine ecology, enjoys researching the wildlife here, and builds on her knowledge of sustainability for the earth and oceans.
It has been a pleasure to have their ideas and hopeful spirits here, in sync with the values of the Chattahoochee Nature Center.
Anna and Lauren have found their experiences as volunteers to be valuable and rewarding.
Find out how Lauren described her experience as a volunteer.
Spending every summer for the past decade at Camp Barney Medintz, an outdoor sleepaway camp in Cleveland, GA, provided me with many positive memories of nature. Free of phones and air conditioning, each summer I embarked on many adventures through the mountains – from creek hikes to a three-day hiking trip through the first stretch of the Appalachian trail to spending a full twenty-four hours alone on a campsite. These solidified my love of the outdoors. When I was thirteen, I had a counselor who came to every meal equipped with a metal bowl and cutlery, and she spent that entire summer spreading her passion for sustainability. Slowly but surely, the respect I had for her ignited my passion for the environment. I started to love nature not only for my memories of it but also for its tranquility and the safety it provided from the often-loud world; I started to question the overconsumption I had committed and the glutenous culture I had perpetuated; most importantly, I started a journey to save the environment, one small step at a time. Now, I am a senior in high school aspiring to further this mission through a career in Environmental Policy.
The logical first step for me was interning at CNC, so I could witness an organization that gets people to care about the environment. Interning at CNC has been my first time in a formal workplace, and I could not imagine a better first experience. I have experienced the workplace culture firsthand, introducing me to the inclusive, nature-focused environment the staff and volunteers create. I have learned about and interacted with the animals, plants, and ecosystems at CNC, while also exploring broader environmental concerns, like plastics, recycling, and pollution. Beyond this, I now understand the myriad of paths that brought the staff members and volunteers to CNC, their similar passions for the environment and educating others about it, and a variety of professional and life skills. This internship, which started as a method for cultivating my sustainability passion in a real-world setting, has equipped me with new knowledge and values that I know I will carry into my future pursuits. I am so grateful for the well-informed, kind people with whom I have had the privilege of interacting, and I cannot wait to learn even more throughout the rest of my internship.
Now we will learn more about Anna and what led her to become a volunteer here.
As a senior at North Springs High School, I am involved in the National Honors Society, National Spanish Honors Society, the Talented and Gifted program, the Environmental Awareness Club, and I am the president of the Sandwich Club. The Sandwich Club is an extension of the nonprofit The Sandwich Project in which people from the metro Atlanta area make sandwiches for those in need of hearty meals. I also enjoy being on the varsity swim and tennis team! All my life, I have been so interested in the natural world, and in recent years I have become interested in the concept of conservation and sustainability. The Chattahoochee Nature has been the perfect environment for me to explore my interests while also helping out with the nonprofit and giving back to the community! I get to learn about the different animals that we rehabilitate, work on programs for the scouts to learn about sustainability, and overall just be surrounded by people who focus on our local environment! It has been the best experience and I plan to continue learning about these topics at the University Of Georgia next year while I major in Environmental Economics and Management!
Thank you Lauren and Anna for giving so much to CNC and we cannot wait to celebrate your successes in life!
Here at the Chattahoochee Nature Center, we are fortunate to have an amazing team of volunteers and staff that are focused on CNC’s mission to connect people with nature. One volunteer group that is not often heard about but is very active behind the scenes is the Board of Trustees. The purpose of the Board of Trustees at CNC is to advise, govern, and oversee policy and direction always with the mission in mind. Clarence Jackson has been on the Board of Trustees since 2016. He has served as Vice-Chair and currently serves as the Chair leading the 30-member volunteer team made up of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and individuals.
Clarence works at Cox Enterprises, a privately held global conglomerate, and is the Senior Director Sustainable Supply Chain and Business Operations. The roots were put down many years ago that led him to CNC to join the Board of Trustees and serve as the Chair. We recently spent time getting to know Clarence better regarding his background, what drives him, and what he sees in the future for CNC.
What is your background and how did it lead to becoming part of the Board of Trustees at CNC?
I joined Cox Enterprises working at the Atlanta Journal Constitution in 2011 and immediately began to find ways to be involved with environmental sustainability issues and to give back by participating in Habitat for Humanity builds, EarthShare, and other events where Cox gives. I joined the Environmental Council at Cox and was part of a group of people that gave advice and opinions on what Cox was doing from a social and environmental governance standpoint.
As my involvement in environmental issues and giving back was noticed, people began to ask, “What are you doing formally?” and “Are you on any boards?”. I started thinking about giving back at a higher level and more strategically to a specific organization.
Through a process of evaluating organizations with open spots, it was the onsite tour of CNC that sealed the deal. I learned about the amazing programs and saw firsthand how CNC connects people with nature every day. They aligned with the values of Cox Enterprises, the AJC and most importantly the priorities in my life were in line with CNC’s mission. I felt like I could add a lot of value and support to the organization through my strengths in management, leadership, and organizational change.
How long have you been on the Board of Trustees at CNC?
I joined the Board of Trustees in September 2016 and was Vice President from October 2018 to October 2020. I became the Chair of the Board of Trustees in October 2020 and when it expires in 2022 the current Vice-Chair, Nick Diluzio will become the chair.
It can be stressful and challenging, but I am always willing to take on more. I will always choose to lean in and support the organization or drive change. A perfect example was during COVID. Initially, our primary goal was to make sure everyone, including kids, staff, and visitors, were both physically and mentally safe. The first step was deciding to shut down for an extended period, but the challenges and decisions that continue to be a part of doing business during a pandemic are still impacting CNC.
Working through hard times will always make you stronger and I have gotten much more out of my time volunteering on the Board of Trustees than I have put in. I am grateful for the diversity of the people on the board as well as the staff and the community that CNC serves. I am a better contributor and director at Cox because of my experiences at CNC.
What does being part of the Chattahoochee Nature Center mean to you?
I grew up in a rural part of Dayton, Ohio and while I got to experience being outside, I went to the City of Dayton schools where most teachers and students were African American and did not get to experience nature past concrete sidewalks and streets. CNC’s partnership with Atlanta Public Schools and the scholarships available to Title 1 schools really hit home. I wanted to be part of something that connected kids that would never normally see the river, walk in the woods, or see a snake up close with nature.
One of the long-term goals for Cox Enterprises is to positively impact 34 million people by 2034. It makes me want to help CNC positively impact as many people as they can. Through the visitors to CNC as well as the business that CNC may work within the community. Throughout the Capital Campaign construction project, we have made sure to have a diverse group of contractors that include minority, women, and veteran-owned businesses. CNC can positively impact people by connecting them with nature through exploring trails, getting on the river, and the health benefits of spending time outside. I want everyone to have that opportunity because I know how much better it makes me and my family feel.
What do you hope to accomplish as the Chair of the Board of Trustees?
The biggest strength that I bring to the board is in business operations and strategy. I can support the board and Natasha as the CEO/President through the Capital Campaign, transitions, safety issues, operations, and truly be a partner with her. I come to CNC events and meetings as often as I can to support her and the CNC staff.
How does your position at Cox Enterprises help you as a Board of Trustees member?
My position at Cox focuses on sustainability and business operations focusing on environmental and social governance. Sustainability is defined as meeting the needs of the present population without compromising the ability of future populations to meet its needs.
How can Cox be more sustainable in their purchasing and become more environmentally sustainable? A change leader will drive teams to integrate fieldwork and operations to change the way we do things. We help supply teams to focus on environmental sustainability, responsible sourcing, and diversity in everything that is purchased.
Many of those same principles can apply to operations at CNC. Environmental and social governance is just as important to a non-profit as it is to a large corporation. Cox’s goal to positively impact 34 million people by 2034 became even more important after social issues and equity was brought to the front in the last few years. Through my work on the Board of Trustees, I can be part of impacting people positively.
Tell us about the recent construction on the CNC grounds and the plans for the next phase of the Capital Campaign.
Five years ago, I remember sitting in a meeting and discussing the need for a bridge over Willeo Road. A bridge was needed for safety and accessibility. It was a dream, but how would CNC get there?
We are close to completing Phase I of the construction and the new bridge and River Boardwalk Trail will open in mid-March. It was exciting to see the bridge installed, but I was even more excited and got chills watching the curved ramps leading up to the bridge and down to the boardwalk take shape. The ramps make the River Boardwalk Trail and wetlands truly accessible to everyone. The ability to connect people with nature will grow exponentially!
The next phase of the capital campaign is ambitious, but once people see what CNC can accomplish they will be inspired. We were able to finish raising the money for Phase 1 during COVID with the help of foundations, state funds, and the tenacity of hard-working people that would not take “No” for an answer. That same tenacity will be brought to the fundraising for Phase 2.
The ribbon-cutting in March will be much sweeter knowing how hard everyone worked!
In honor of Black History Month do you have a black naturalist or environmental activist that has inspired you?
There is not one specific person, but people that are educating on environmental issues in communities in Atlanta that may not have had the opportunity to learn why we need to reduce our carbon footprint or plastic consumption. Many times, those communities are not affluent and many times they are minority communities. They are not in a place where they can think about large global issues and how it directly affects their communities.
CNC allows kids in those communities to learn about their watershed, how they can affect their watershed, and how the watershed affects them. Through educational or volunteer opportunities they can link it back to their community. They will be more likely to pick up a piece of trash or not dump oil down a storm drain.
It is important to educate and influence all people no matter where they live to enjoy nature and be led to do things differently or maybe even choose a career in environmental sciences.
What are your favorite ways to spend time outside and connect with nature?
I love to get outside and connect with nature by taking walks with the family and our dogs. We also love to spend time at the river and walk in the woods. There is a peaceful feeling and calmness that overcomes you when you hear squirrels rustling in the leaves, see herons on the river, hear a woodpecker, or even be lucky enough to see a beaver swimming.
I can’t wait to see families and kids of all ages on the new River Boardwalk enjoying being outside and laughing. If you ever have a bad day, just come to CNC and walk around you will see amazement at all things big and small in the eyes of the kids.
I am sure you love all the events at CNC, but do you have a favorite can’t miss event during the year?
One of my favorite events is Corporate EcoChallenge. We all work hard, and it is a chance to get outside and spend time with workmates. It also brings out my competitive side. We are all working together to win. Cox Enterprises won the last Corporate EcoChallenge in 2019 and we are hopeful it will return this year.
I also enjoy any event that is at night at the Ben Brady Pavilion and l am looking forward to events on the River Boardwalk. The lights, music, fresh air make the evening feel magical.
Thank you, Clarence, for taking the time to share your background and your level of commitment to CNC. Sustainability, social governance, and equity are keystones to your career and how you live. You live a life that models how to leave the world better for future generations. We are lucky to have you as a member of the Board of Trustees and a supporter of the Chattahoochee Nature Center and the mission to connect people with nature. Keep your eyes open and you might find Clarence at the next event making a difference for everyone.