Continuing our series focused on the contributions of Black Americans, Latin Americans, Native Americans, and other historically under-recognized groups to conservation and environmental sciences, this month we are spotlighting local environmental hero Gloria McNair.
Gloria is the Community Engagement Coordinator for Groundwork Jacksonville, the city’s primary nonprofit organization specifically created to clean and redevelop Jacksonville’s Emerald Trail and convert contaminated land into parks, playgrounds, trails, and other public greenspace. Her role is to engage Jacksonville citizens, especially residents from historically underserved urban neighborhoods, in visioning, advocating for, and shaping Groundwork projects such as the restoration of McCoy’s Creek and building the Emerald Trail. She identifies and meets with leaders and stakeholders to share information, gain support, and learn the needs of the communities impacted by Groundwork Jacksonville initiatives.
She is also the manager of Groundwork Jacksonville's Community Restoration Environmental Stewardship Training (CREST) initiative. CREST participants are residents or stakeholders in Jacksonville's North Riverside and Brooklyn neighborhoods, and the program pairs youths and adults in mentoring relationships. In addition, there is a job training element; currently, five of the CREST apprentices have been trained as water monitoring technicians.
Working with Groundwork Jacksonville brought back memories of her rural upbringing when she absolutely loved nature, and she is concerned because today’s youth are missing out on the wonders of the outdoors and the natural world. She is most passionate about habitat restoration and conservation for people and wildlife, especially our birds. The greatest benefit she has received from working from home in recent months is being able to take breaks to walk outside and observe the hawks, herons, egrets, and turtles around her lake.
Gloria loves and believes in the benefits of the projects of Groundwork Jacksonville. She is looking forward to seeing the first mile of the Emerald Trail become a reality and knowing that she played a significant role in achieving that project. Another long-term goal is seeing the McCoy’s Creek Restoration Project completed and enjoyed by the neighborhood.
Duval Audubon had the pleasure of working with Gloria and the CREST participants last year. We presented a "Birdwatching for Beginners" program for the group and hosted a bird walk around McCoy’s Creek. We plan to continue to provide educational programs and bird walks to the CREST volunteers when our outdoor activities resume.
Thank you for your hard work and dedication, Gloria!
--Jody Willis, Vice President and Outreach Director, September 2020
In recognition of the need for environmental organizations like ours to do a better job of representing diverse voices, we are beginning a new series highlighting the contributions of African Americans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans to conservation and environmental sciences. We are thrilled to kick things off by introducing our newest board member Christopher Conner, who will serve as our Volunteer Director.
Chris is the coordinator of the Jacksonville Zoo’s W.I.L.D. (Wildlife Immersion and Leadership Development) Program, which focuses on youth engagement, literacy, environmental education, cultural representation, and inclusion. Since its 2016 inauguration, the mostly Black and Latinx teens involved have created award-winning outreach programs, amassed nearly $1 million in college scholarships, and achieved global recognition for their work. The W.I.L.D. program and its staff have received several awards, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2017 Significant Achievement in Diversity Award, the North American Association for Environmental Education Under 30 Global Awards (twice), the Jax Teen Champion Award, and the 2019 12 Who Care Community Service Award.
Chris has always had an innate passion for wildlife and greenspaces. He ventured into conservation education with the specific intention of reimagining the face of environmental education and championing cultural representation and social equity. He is most passionate about environmental literacy and equity, as our journey to sustainability will require many different approaches and voices. He believes that everyone should have the opportunity to learn about the environment and build their relationship with nature on their own terms. As Chris says, “Nature is owned by no one, yet represents us all. Therefore, all of our voices should be echoed when championing for it.”
Going forward, Chris plans to continue with his current work as the W.I.L.D. Program Coordinator, and one of his goals for 2020 is to create a nature podcast that connects to a wider audience for nature, and moves environmental literacy forward in a way that is entertaining and informative.
Thank you for your work for the environment, Chris!
--Jody Willis, Vice President and Outreach Director, August 2020