“This fall, our seniors joined in the Hawk Watch program and bird watched in the glorious meadow on a sunny day while seated in comfortable Adirondack chairs. While learning about and watching the migration, our seniors were served hot tea and blankets were provided for them to stay warm. Our clients loved the outing and can’t wait to come back this winter for another education program.”
By Caroline Bailey, Audubon’s Accessibility Coordinator
In 2019, the Greenwich Audubon Center launched a new initiative focused in accessibility and inclusion called, “Audubon For All.” This initiative focuses on supporting underrepresented communities, including people with challenges, senior citizens, and children from under-resourced communities. The Greenwich Audubon Center has one of the few truly accessible Hawk Watch locations in the country. People of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities are able to visit the Quaker Ridge Hawk Watch and experience the incredible migrations of birds overhead with guidance from Audubon staff. The Greenwich Audubon Center also has accessible exhibits in the Hilfiger Learning Center, such as a demonstration beehive, powerful microscope, and live animal displays. The Greenwich Audubon Center has approximately ¼ mile of accessible trails that incorporate a variety of natural habitats, and additional plans for expansion next year. The Greenwich Audubon Center also has ambitious plans to add new accessible trails, sensory gardens, new accessible exhibits, bilingual signage with braille, accessible maps, sensory kits, and a designated sensory-sensitive room in their visitor center.
Eli Schaffer became Center Director in 2019, and has made accessibility a top priority. This year, the Greenwich Audubon Center added new accessible stretches of trails around Georgie’s Pond, so that more people could experience this beautiful and biodiverse habitat. Center Director Eli Schaffer firmly believes that, “a coalition fighting to protect birds, other wildlife and the habitat they depend on is a coalition uniting all people. As The National Audubon Society has prioritized increasing equity, diversity and inclusion, the Greenwich Audubon Center has taken action to set an example for Audubon Centers and local Nature Centers alike. Through our Audubon for All initiative, we are investing in our exhibits and trails, programming and staffing to make Audubon a welcoming, inclusive and safe haven for people with special needs and their families.”
Staff member Caroline Bailey joined the team in 2016, and has become Audubon’s Accessibility Coordinator as one facet of her job. She coordinates and plans personalized visits and programs for underrepresented audiences. Caroline’s brother has autism, and she says this has helped inspire accomplishments at Audubon: “One of my brother and my favorite activities is to spend time exploring in nature together, and to look for plants and wildlife. My brother does not speak in words often, but he loves to communicate with me about nature. He has an incredible memory, and remembers the names of every single plant, bird, and animal we ever encounter.” Caroline says this relationship with her brother has greatly informed the Audubon For All Initiative at the Greenwich Audubon Center. “I love tying together these two invaluable causes: connecting people with nature and supporting underrepresented communities. I am so appreciative of Audubon and Eli Schaffer for making inclusion a top priority at Audubon, and allowing me the opportunity to contribute to this initiative.”
The Greenwich Audubon Center has been offering personalized programs based on what their audiences have expressed interest in. Participating organizations have included Abilis, Cerebral Palsy of Westchester, the Don Bosco Center, and STEPS Home Care.
The Greenwich Audubon Center has also coordinated and led a series of personalized programs with STEPS Home Care, an organization that supports senior citizens with enriching outings and activities. STEPS Home Care representative Betsy Keller provided the following feedback after a recent program: “This fall, our seniors joined in the Hawk Watch program and bird watched in the glorious meadow on a sunny day while seated in comfortable Adirondack chairs. While learning about and watching the migration, our seniors were served hot tea and blankets were provided for them to stay warm. Our clients loved the outing and can’t wait to come back this winter for another education program.”
Cerebral Palsy of Westchester also enjoys visiting often, and representatives from the organization shared that stopping by the Greenwich Audubon Center is one of their favorite outings. They said they particularly enjoy viewing the live bee colony exhibit in the Hilfiger Learning Center and looking at other live animals, such as Mango the box turtle.
The Greenwich Audubon Center has also supported other local underrepresented communities such as the Don Bosco Center in Port Chester. In the words of Martha Sud, Founder and Director of the Early Childhood Bilingual Program, “vulnerable students from the Don Bosco Early Childhood Bilingual Program benefited significantly from making multiple connections to nature.” She added that, “students demonstrated higher level of empathy towards animals and plants and had greater language output, especially for those students with communication disorders and sensory impairments.” After their students participated in Audubon-led programs, Don Bosco educators observed that, “young students exhibited more creativity in their free play-with calmer minds and bodies in the classroom-after spending quality time observing animals and plants. The Audubon For All initiative is a gift of nature for all communities to embrace!” The Greenwich Audubon Center has also embraced the LGBTGAI+ community with celebratory Let’s Go Birding Together programs, which will now be offered throughout the year, expanding upon the previous annual offering during pride month in June.
The Greenwich Audubon Center hopes to expand their reach to support more children with challenges, senior centers, veterans, community centers, and other local organizations that support underrepresented communities. “At the Greenwich Audubon Center, we believe that nature should be accessible for everyone. Nature provides soothing and enriching experiences, and we’d like to do everything we can to provide more of those positive experiences for our local community,” says Caroline Bailey. Eli Schaffer adds that, “Audubon for All unites our efforts to reach communities that have been underrepresented and those facing barriers in accessing nature in the initiative. To reach new audiences and overcome challenges together, the Greenwich Audubon Center relies on strategic partnerships to leverage existing organizational relationships with communities.” The Greenwich Audubon Center hopes to expand the accessible trails around their property, to have more accessible and sensory-oriented exhibits, and offer more programming in 2020.
They recently began offering Sensory-Sensitive Saturdays, a designated window of time during every second Saturday of the month when people of all ages with challenges and their family members and guardians can visit and experience soothing nature films, interesting natural artifacts, and other resources in a relaxing space with Audubon staff. The Greenwich Audubon Center is currently exploring new avenues of partnership and collaboration for this cause, and would like to increase their level of positive impact serving the local community. The Greenwich Audubon Center team is dedicated to this cause and is excited for the future growth of Audubon For All.