Give, Care, Share: E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center
Story by Courtney Murray | Photos provided by E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center
“To walk in nature is to witness a thousand miles.” – Mary Davis. There are some things that just can’t be taught in a classroom. Exploring the great outdoors can expand the mind and nurture the soul in ways that a textbook is unable to do. The E.O.Wilson Biophilia Center is a place where children are educated through interactive, hands on sustainability and nature-based programming for schools and other groups. “This is such an arduous task – trying to save biodiversity. We can only do it through our children, and our children can only do it if they are armed with the knowledge and the passion,” stated E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center Founder, MC Davis. Walton County, Florida, is home to this incredible nonprofit environmental education center. The Biophilia Center educates, on average, 100 students a day in fourth and seventh grades, Monday through Friday from five local surrounding counties (Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Washington, and Holmes). “The local school districts consider our facility to be an extension of their classroom, as we are their science education/project-based learning facility, the place where schooling becomes applicable,” described Lauren Bray, Development and Events Coordinator/ Environmental Educator. The Biophilia Center opens doors for so many children by allowing public school students to visit the Center free of charge for either two or four day programs that are filled with over twenty different environmental science lessons.
Lauren Bray said, “We partner with businesses, universities, and other non-profits to teach the principles of sustainability and the importance of conservation and preservation of the natural world around us.” The Center is focused on spreading teaching throughout the community by opening their doors to the public during the summer and providing offsite outreach education. Students and others who visit the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center learn about the natural environment through interpretive exhibits, wildlife ambassadors, and an extensive trail system through natural areas on Nokuse Plantation. Fourth Grade Teacher from Patronis Elementary, Anna Hull recognizes the Center’s importance saying, “Without this Center our students would not have had these chances to open their minds and spirits to nature in the most up close and spectacular ways. Just listening to their conversations sparked by these opportunities I can tell you that lives are changed. Our students are passionate about the world in which they live and for which they will, one day, be responsible. It has been a priceless time for them and one that will have far-reaching benefits for many.”
Interview with Lauren Bray,
Development and Events Coordinator/ Environmental Educator at the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center
VIP Destin Magazine: Tell us how you got involved with this organization?
Lauren Bray: I had been to a few lectures given by Dr. E.O.Wilson during graduate school and was impressed with the Center’s mission and dedication to science education. I reached out to them after graduation and five years later have been working here ever since.
VIP Destin Magazine: What is the biggest moment that has stood out in the last year?
Lauren Bray: This past year we have collaborated with some other local and national organizations including Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation with our summer camp programs and Community Collaborations Initiative organizing college student volunteers for their alternative spring break. We’ve also worked with Okaloosa Science Initiative giving even more students from our area the opportunity for exciting hands-on field experiences and providing opportunities for students to apply their knowledge by participating in service learning activities supporting their local community and environment.
VIP Destin Magazine: What are some ways that community members can contribute, help and get involved?
Lauren Bray: There are a number of different ways to help support the E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center. Each year the Center serves more than 6,000 students, in addition to caring for over 50 permanent animals. To provide the best possible service, we are asking for your help. As an independent nonprofit organization, we rely on the generosity of the communities we serve. All donations, both monetary and goods, are not only appreciated but crucial to our success. Check out our website for ways to contribute your time, materials, or monetary support at www.eowilsoncenter.org.
VIP Destin Magazine: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Lauren Bray: Every day I hear people say, “I love this place, I just saw an eagle,” or, “I just got to hold a turtle!” Without prompting, they tell me how great it is to have one-on-one experiences with our local wildlife. I love to share my knowledge with curious and wide-eyed students. As an educator, I feel rewarded in knowing people leave the Biophilia Center with a greater appreciation for wildlife and a better understanding of the importance of conserving the habitats they live in.
VIP Destin Magazine: Does E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center have any upcoming events?
Lauren Bray: The E. O. Wilson Biophilia Center is excited about our upcoming Where the Wild Things 5K Trail Run on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Runners will race through the woods for a wild off-terrain adventure. For registration check Active.com.
We are also working with a local signature chef, Roux 30A, for a fundraiser benefiting the Center. The Birds of Prey Wine Dinner hosted by Roux 30A, Benefiting the E.O.Wilson Biophilia Center will be held on Saturday, May 6, 2017, at 6pm. Seating is limited and with tickets for $200 per person, you can enjoy an intimate dining experience with proceeds going to the Biophilia Center. The evening will feature a delicious five-course dinner with wine pairings, a silent auction and an exciting live birds of prey show.
VIP Destin Magazine: Describe a situation working with the center that really stood out and touched you.
Lauren Bray: There is a growing disparity between the time kids spend indoors wired to technology and the time they spend outside enjoying nature. I feel privileged to be the one to introduce students, some their very first time in the forest, to the complexity and beauty of our environment. Watching children get excited about learning and encouraging their sense of exploration and imagination just by going on a hike through the woods is what its all about for me.
VIP Destin Magazine: What plans does the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center have for the future?
Lauren Bray: We are excited to start our new Naturalist Outdoors Program, focusing on local as well as out of state high school students. This new educational program will incorporate field research experience and expose teenagers to different occupations, studies, and opportunities for making positive impacts on our environment.