Cocktail party, new neighbor introduction, general conversation, updates to friends and family… the question always surfaces: “What do you do?*”
Here’s what I “do”.
I work for Earth’s Birthday Project, a small non-profit organization that provides environmental education curriculum and materials for children. The tongue-in-cheek answer is: I sell butterflies. (Okay, and other live insects and stuff, but we’re mostly known for our butterflies.) These days I’m the Assistant Director, which means I spend my time making sure we get done what we’ve told ourselves we need to get done. You could call it organizational oversight/project management. My co-worker, Alia, calls it “Suzie cracks the whip.” I always get a kick out of that job description.
My job calls upon an odd assortment of skills. I’m involved in everything from publication graphics to marketing, database management, customer service, program development and strategic planning.. Even miscellaneous personal skills get pulled into my work. Here’s an example. Recently I posted this on Facebook, along with some pictures:
Wow. You just never know how things you love might lead you in a new direction… Here are pics of the tiny bee and butterfly finger puppets I designed to be part of our environmental education kits for preschoolers (learning about plants, learning about insects/pollinators). And then, a few weeks later, pics came back from our fair-trade collective of knitters in Peru — sitting with my written, emailed pattern and pictures — preparing to make them! Knitting, environmental education, everyday work. Three things that have come together in a really terrific way.
But there’s more it to that. It’s not just designing a toy and then sending it off to be made in some foreign country. Nope. There’s a lot of thought behind what happened with these knitted goodies. And then a lot of conversation — about how to engage children in learning that goes beyond the classroom, beyond a worksheet, beyond lesson plans. How do you get children engaged in the natural world around them so they discover the wonders inherent in it, come to care about it, and then have in mind that it’s theirs to protect? That’s our mission, more or less. So every “product” is not just about selling stuff. It’s about creating an experience for children that leads to greater understanding of and love for nature.
Case in point: our Sunflower Challenge. Each classroom receives 25 packs of sunflower seeds, a teacher’s guide, a full color poster of how seeds sprout, and a book about the life cycle of a sunflower. The class opens some of the seed packets so they can sprout seeds in the classroom. Then, each child goes home with a seed packet. If they can grow a sunflowers from seeds to blooming plant and send us a picture, we send them a prize! Our bulletin board is COVERED every fall in the pictures we receive from Sunflower Challenge champions across the country. The kids are so proud!!! Our next evolution in the Sunflower Challenge kit is to include take-home books for each child, further curriculum about pollinators, and a take-home bee finger puppet for each child.
Kind of a cool thing to do for work, right?
And I can’t tell you how many people I talk with through the year — mostly teachers and parents — who express how wonderful it is to be able to bring a direct, hands-on experience with nature to their kids. I can’t post the phone conversations, but I can post some of the pictures we get back:
We also have kits for ladybugs, praying mantis, Luna and Polyphemus moths. It’s all just very cool.
Okay, one or two more pictures. I love them all so much I just want to share.
So for friends, family, and far away folks who wonder “what I do”, that pretty much sums it up. Oh, plus all the background work that gets these experiences to kids: finding sponsors and underwriters, getting the catalog out to schools, youth centers and organizations across the country, tracking down packages when Fed Ex misses a delivery, keeping inventory (Wait — how many Luna moths are available this year and how many have we sold so far?!?!?!?), and keeping our tiny team of coworkers in good spirits whether things are sleepy or stressful.
To see us online, you can visit EarthsBirthday.org
One more picture. Another of my all-time favorites. Sent in from New York City.