When life as we know it came to a screeching halt with the coronavirus pandemic, the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery’s virtual presentations were already in the works. …
When life as we know it came to a screeching halt with the coronavirus pandemic, the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery’s virtual presentations were already in the works. “It was initially a solution for when there was so much snow that I couldn’t get to a school when it was in session,” explained CEED’s environmental educator/program and site director, Eric Powers.
Ready to go in March, the first program served as a lead-in for meeting fate. After notifying schools, CEED’s “Live Animal Show: Wildlife Diversity,” aired on April 10. Lovey Dove, an African dove, Quill.I.Am. the hedgehog (a take on rapper will.i.am.), red-footed tortoise Monster, and Priscilla the Peruvian tarantula appeared in their starring roles, along with other animal ambassador colleagues.
Seven virtual programs are now available; eight libraries and local school districts in Nassau County, and even Texas, have snapped them up.
“I use this background,” Powers said, pointing to a tall screen with its scene of tall trees and a stream flowing over rocks against a misty background. “I utilize a laptop, a stand, and can control the lighting,” he said.
Powers, also CEED’s caretaker, lives on the premises; a true nature center if ever there was one.
The animals residing at the old Washington Lodge headquarters in Brookhaven are well behaved, but Iris, the 8-foot boa constrictor, anchored her tail on a screen edge and started pulling it down when Powers conducted his first virtual “Live Animal Show.” No worries. Animal spontaneity makes it real and Powers, who brings the creatures up close to the laptop so students can ask questions, made it through the session seamlessly after that. (P.S. The animals are all rescues.)
Wiggs Middle School in El Paso, Texas, which had heard about the presentations, just signed up. Powers answers kids’ questions.
After several years of efforts to establish their presence, CEED is celebrating
their official three-year anniversary this month, with Brookhaven Town handing them the keys. They’ve carved out hiking trails, developed innovative programs, and worked collaboratively with Isabella Rossellini and her Mama Farm next door.
“We were really starting to come into our own,” said executive director Rebecca Mueller. “We were about to hire a paid executive director and host a fundraising dinner.” CEED’s annual budget is $175,000; they lost about $87,000, she said, adding that a big chunk was from school cancellations and also losing fundraising events. “Spring is our prolific time; it’s kind of like retail at Christmas time,” Mueller said.
The Ho-Hum Beach four-hour adven- ture with students is off the table right now, and Mueller and Powers are hoping alternatives can be worked out. So, what will become of the summer camp?
Their first summer, held at Post-Morrow’s nearby headquarters last year, offered sessions for three weeks with just a.m., p.m., and all-day choices. They were booked. Powers and Mueller are hoping for a similar reaction this year.
“We’re getting signups,” Powers said. “Once the state gives us the date to reopen with specific criteria, we’ll set up the schedule.”
“We’re saying you don’t have to pay up front; you can pay later on. We have parents who have signed up for all three weeks,” Mueller said.
Summer camp programs will be facilitated with small groups of 10 kids. One young person from last year, who enjoyed his time so much, is eager to return as a counselor in training. “The advantage is that we’re small in classes and most of what we do is outside,” Mueller empha- sized.
CEED can’t hold programs in the building just yet.
“Just to do these two rooms,” Powers said, pointing to the welcome center and education center, “we have to install sprinkler and fire suppression systems and a fire alarm, and we have to have a dedicated water main. You can’t say, ‘for $10,000 I can get this room done.’ Our ballpark estimates were about $400,000 just for the utilities and to renovate the two rooms.”
In the meantime, the virtual programs will continue.
“We were fortunate that the schools and libraries who switched over from the scheduled in-person programs honored our existing contracts,” said Powers. “And we picked up two new schools.”