Elly Doyle Awards – 2023

Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Park Commission announced their 2023 Elly Doyle awards presented annually to deserving volunteers or organizations. For 2023, two FMN volunteers received “Outstanding Volunteer” Awards via parks they support. Jo Doumbia received an award via Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC) in Annandale and Celia Boertlein via Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) in Hybla Valley.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center – Photo curtesy of FCPA

Jo’s nomination letter cited her enthusiastic demeanor, graciousness in sharing her multilingual skills, and her joy of fostering natural history education in support of environmental justice. Jo is the perfect example of an outstanding volunteer.
The letter went on to say that she excels at her role inside the nature center building and also took it upon herself to go above and beyond the normal Volunteer on Duty role and extend Hidden Oaks’ interpretative outreach through a variety of activities within the local community. An experienced presenter and naturalist, Jo represents Hidden Oaks by planning and hosting nature outreach activities with neighborhood Community Centers supporting a highly diverse audience.
Since last summer Jo also interpreted monarch butterfly programs for elementary and high school age audiences at Wedgewood Community Center, which serves a highly diverse, low-income apartment complex in Annandale. These programs included monarch tagging and monarch migration activities.

Jo helping the Culmore teens into Kayaks at Riverbend – photo Jerry Nissley

She is the HONC liaison with Culmore Community Center. With Hidden Oaks’ staff, Jo put considerable effort into arranging four summer programs for 22 low-income Latino teens to attend complimentary STEM workshops at Hidden Oaks, Lake Fairfax, and Riverbend Park. Students participated in fishing, orienteering, geocaching, and kayaking. They studied live herps, STEM careers, conducted soil sampling with NVSWCD and benthic macroinvertebrates with DPWES. They were also sure to have fun at picnics and gathering around campfires. She coordinated volunteers from Fairfax Master Naturalists to assist in these events.
Through her vision and efforts, she extended Hidden Oaks’ nature interpretation programs to a more diverse audience, including those who are low-income and may otherwise not be able to participate in a paid program.

HMP Visitor Center – Photo Jerry Nissley

Celia received Huntley Meadows “Ken Howard” award and the Elly Doyle “Outstanding Volunteer” Award. Ken Howard was an autochthonal supporter of HMP and this eponymous award is considered HMP’s highest honor. Her Elly Doyle nomination letter stated that Celia is an essential member of the volunteer team. She wears many hats and is nearly always the first volunteer to assist with programs and scouts. Celia continues to fulfill her roving naturalist and vernal pool monitor duties without fail and dedicates an incredible amount of time and energy to support Huntley Meadows Park special events.

Celia helped immensely with the HMP Wetlands Awareness Day as a Friends of Huntley Meadows Park representative and stayed especially busy organizing the event. She continually steps up as an interpretive program assistant, field trip leader, roving naturalist, and vernal pool monitor – she is an essential park volunteer.  

HMP Big Pond – Photo Jerry Nissley

Celia continuously updates natural resource records with new developments in her vernal pool. She researches additional data, provides materials for others, and utilizes her contacts to reach out for more detail. She provides invaluable assistance in many different programs at HMP. Her skill set contributes to citizen science, educational, and community outreach activities. She brings a depth of naturalist knowledge and interpretation skills when speaking with park guests. As a roving naturalist she provides essential support to the park’s interpretive staff through her energetic, hands-on program assistance.

Virginia Master Naturalists receive award for expanding diversity

Photo by Rich Brager

By David Fleming      21 JAN 2022

A team of Virginia Master Naturalists committed to diversity and inclusion has spent much of the year focused on finding ways to increase participation and encourage engagement between conservation volunteers and communities in the commonwealth.

For their efforts in addressing these challenges of conservation work, the program’s Diversity and Inclusion Working Group was recently awarded the Outstanding Team Award from the Alliance of Natural Resource Outreach and Service Programs.

“Our diversity and inclusion group was formed in early 2021, with the particular intention of having a team of people who reflect the diversity of the populations we want to reach with our program,” said Michelle Prysby, a Virginia Cooperative Extension faculty member in the College of Natural Resources and Environment and the director of the Virginia Master Naturalist program. “Our goal has been to meet to talk about what some of the barriers are for participation in these programs and what potential actions could be taken to help reduce those barriers.”

The group, composed of master naturalists from numerous chapters of the organization, was tasked with developing a list of action items that would serve to increase diversity and inclusion across all of the organization’s programs.

“There is a lot of interest and enthusiasm among Virginia Master Naturalists to engage with communities,” said Alexis Dickerson, a member of the working group awarded the prize. “But people who aren’t naturally engaged in other communities have a hesitation about how to approach that work.”

Dickerson, a member of the Arlington Regional Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program and an urban outreach educator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, notes that the Virginia Master Naturalist program is a useful conduit to connect citizens and community groups with relevant information about natural resources.

“Many of the environmental issues we talk about or educate on are relevant to a lot of very different and diverse communities,” Dickerson explained. “Our ability to identify where those places are, and to work to be a better resource for the people who are already starting to do conservation work, or who have concerns about their natural resources, can significantly increase our service to the state of Virginia.”

The working group, which worked collaboratively during twice-monthly Zoom meetings, recently presented a webinar for all Virginia Master Naturalist volunteers. The group outlined their goals, provided actionable steps for regional chapters, and explained how increasing diversity among participants can contribute positively to the broader outreach aims of the organization.

Prysby said that while these initial steps are positive, the task of expanding access to and participating with the Virginia Master Naturalist program is a long-term challenge.

“The challenge of diversity is always a concern for people working in natural resource education,” said Prysby, who works in the Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation. “If our end goal is conservation of natural resources, that isn’t something that just happens. It requires people and communities, and for us to be effective, we need to involve all people and all communities.”

To learn more about how the Virginia Master Naturalist program fosters citizen science in the commonwealth, consider joining CNRE’s Third Thursday Lunch & Learn Webinar on Feb. 17 from 12 to 1:15 p.m.

This article is reprinted with permission from Krista Timney, Ph.D., Director of Communications, College of Natural Resources and Environmen, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. The article appeared in the Virginia Tech News daily email.