Visiting the WNC Nature Center gives you the chance to see the plants and animals of the Southern Appalachian mountains. Whether it’s the red pandas, whose distant cousins roamed our land more than five millions years ago, or the red wolves, who are fighting to survive with only 25 wild wolves left in the world, you are bound to experience a connection and leave with a better understanding of your place in the natural world around you.
But some people in our community are unable to visit the Nature Center firsthand. Schools may not be able to afford a fieldtrip, retirement communities may have seniors with mobility issues, and some families may have budget or transportation barriers as well.
A few years ago, the nonprofit Friends of the WNC Nature Center, saw an opportunity to provide an outreach education program that brought the Nature Center to people who couldn’t physically visit. Tori Duval is the outreach educator who brings this vital program to underserved communities, school groups, retirement communities, and libraries in Buncombe County and the surrounding counties.
Instead of regularly priced admission costs, the program offers low-cost education to groups of 10 to 150+ within 50 miles of Asheville, NC. These educational programs feature live animal ambassadors and are designed to meet NCSCOS education standards. You can find out more about program offerings and costs at www.wildwnc.org/schools-home-schools.
Despite being a fairly new program, the outreach initiative has already made incredible strides. In 2018, the outreach program was awarded a Significant Achievement in Education award by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This was the first ever AZA education award presented to the Nature Center. That year, Tori served 9,200 individuals and served four Tier 1 Counties.
Tori also recently completed her environmental education certification through the North Carolina Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs. This rigorous program requires 180 documented hours of professional development workshops, community outreach, teaching experiences, site visits, and independent study. It establishes standards for professional excellence in environmental education for formal and non-formal educators. The program also enhances the ability of educators and organizations to provide quality programs and resources, benefiting local communities while investing in the future of North Carolina’s environment.