Centennial and Beyond

    August 22, 2016
    by TaKeisha Bobbitt

    Editor's Note: We are proud to bring you the inaugural post of the Blue Sky Funders Forum blog. This post, published the week of the National Park Service Centennial, comes from TaKeisha Bobbitt, managing director for program services at the National Environmental Education Foundation. We are excited to welcome TaKeisha as a new Blue Sky advisor this month.

    The celebration of one hundred years of the National Park Service's (NPS) work to preserve and provide access to the beauty of the American landscape inspires reflection upon the true value of our parks and consideration of how we at the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) can support them going forward. As we celebrate the NPS Centennial, NEEF is looking to the future of our public lands and our role in sustaining them.

    In October 2015, we stopped to reflect on our public lands work in this historic Centennial year. We asked ourselves two questions:

    • How do we ensure that our public lands are sustained, relevant, and useful to Americans for another 100 years?
    • How do we respond to and account for the changing demographics and needs of people in this country?

    After several conversations internally as well as conversations with key stakeholders, NEEF decided to respond to these challenges in part by providing support to sustain lesser known parks and NPS units across the country through our Centennial and Beyond Fund.

    Bolstering Local Support through Capacity Building
    In June 2016, NEEF partnered with the Kendeda Fund to launch the Centennial and Beyond Fund in response to these challenges. This fund provides a total of $400,000 in support for projects that build the capacity of local NPS Friends Groups (or cooperating associations) to serve diverse audiences that are reflective of their park unit’s surrounding community. The fund specifically targets Friends Groups of lesser-known park units that are more accessible to urban communities with diverse and traditionally underserved audiences.

    This newly launched funding opportunity builds on the more than 20 years of work NEEF has undertaken with Friends Groups and small organizations that have organized to support our public lands across the nation. These small nonprofit groups and Friends Groups are often the lifeblood of public lands. They provide local, on-the-ground support for event organization, volunteering, and community outreach. NEEF supports these groups’ vital work through Everyday Capacity Building and Everyday Events grants. In addition to this funding, we also offer free access to professional development tools and educational resources. These resources allow these groups to more effectively manage their organizations and give more Americans opportunities to enjoy their public lands.

    Responding to a Changing Landscape
    Our decisions about where and what to fund were influenced by a few factors including the nation’s changing demographics and NEEF’s ability to build on a core initiative central to our values—capacity building through grants. Our country looks very different from America in 1916, the year NPS was established. Take a look at these figures:

    • In 1916, about 50% of Americans lived in urban areas. Today, 80% of Americans reside in metropoles.
    • Urban parks account for 36% of NPS visitation.
    • NPS now maintains a presence in 40 of the 50 most populous U.S. cities.

    While we must protect and sustain the larger, well-known parks and the awe-inspiring experiences that they provide, we take to heart the need to facilitate interactions with nearby public lands that go beyond a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    “Public Lands Every Day”
    The educational, health, and recreational benefits that our public lands provide can be integrated into everyday life. In order to achieve this, park accessibility and proximity to where people live, work, and play is essential. NEEF works to connect Americans to the environment by encouraging people to visit and care for public lands and by helping people discover how time in the natural world impacts mental and physical health. Our goal is to encourage and facilitate meaningful, recurring interactions with public lands. These interactions range from students using Petroglyph National Park as a field classroom to research air quality in the Phoenix area, to healthcare providers prescribing nature to their patients as an intervention for an existing or impending health condition. These interactions go beyond a singular use or encounter and lay the foundation for a holistic appreciation of our lands and waterways. NEEF’s public lands focus allows all people to discover the natural environment’s relationship to everyday life and understand that public lands are available for everyone.

    NEEF’s “Public Lands Every Day” motto underscores the need to think about, interact with, and care for our public parks, waterways, and other public spaces regularly. NEEF embraces this approach directly through our capacity building funding and support. In the five years since NEEF first launched its “public lands everyday” grants courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales, we have targeted a large portion of our funds to capacity building. A $5,000 or $10,000 grant can make an astounding difference to a local nonprofit’s long term success if used to support membership development, board development, the launch of a new website, or other core infrastructure needs. Here at NEEF we believe that funding these types of projects is pivotal to ensuring all our public lands will thrive for the next 100 years.

    As we all consider ways to engage with and support our local public lands in this historic Centennial year, NEEF invites all Americans to find and participate a National Public Lands Day event near them. Together, we can build strong and inclusive national parks and public lands that welcome visitors of every race, ethnicity, and ability while still protecting the national wonders that sustain life. 

    TaKeisha Bobbitt oversees all of NEEF’s program management and alignment efforts. She has served as Managing Director with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Executive Director of the Undergraduate School at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). Originally from Dallas, Texas, she is a graduate of the University of Maryland University College, the University of Missouri Kansas City, and the University of Tulsa. She is also a certified professional development facilitator.


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