With the school year coming to a close, children will have more free time to explore nature around them. To help facilitate and provide a structured learning environment for kids to learn about birds, Wild Birds Unlimited has partnered with the National Audubon Society to promote the conservation organization’s camp scholarships.
Wild Birds Unlimited has been servicing communities for more than 35 years as the premier bird feeding supply retail franchise. The brand connected with the National Audubon Society in 2007 to begin providing scholarship opportunities to elementary through middle school-aged children. Since its inception, the brand’s Pathways To Nature For Kids initiative has granted the National Audubon Society more than $350,000, helping nearly 3,000 children connect with nature in a new way.
Audubon announced that the 15 centers that were named recipients of its Wild Birds Unlimited Scholarship in 2019 span 11 U.S. states and a Canadian providence. In recent years, the conservation organization has experienced a flood of applications and has had to allocate funds based on center participation. In 2017, the scholarship model was altered to be presented to youth groups in addition to individuals. The change resulted in an amplified reach, as the 2018 program connected with nearly 600 campers.
“We try to serve the most centers possible while allocating resources evenly,” said Julisa Colón, Manager of Brand Marketing for the National Audubon Society. “When an Audubon center has the opportunity to connect with youth-based organizations in their community, we work to ensure centers have the ability to sponsor frequent field trips to expand their reach further than they would be able to with individual scholarships.”
Colón noted that as a result of such partnerships, the scholarship has had a tremendous nationwide reach. Indeed, with more than 250 camp scholarships at 16 Audubon centers in 14 states, Audubon has continued to see an increase each year in the number of young people attending summer camps at its centers across the U.S.
“We’re keeping kids in the conservation space and opening their eyes to nature,” said Colón. “The camp scholarships are a fantastic opportunity for students, and even locals, to look more closely at the communities that Audubon and Wild Birds Unlimited serve.”
The summer camps directly correlate with the internship program Audubon provides. Colón stated that many of the interns that Audubon employs have been prior camp scholarship recipients and participants. She added that many of those individuals who are hired as interns progress to work with the organization for a full-time career.
“These scholarships ensure that our campers look like the communities we serve – they allow us to work with students from under-represented groups, and we’re placing additional emphasis on connecting campers to subsequent growth opportunities, including our internship, fellowship, and apprenticeship programs,” said Colón. “Ray Sessly, one of our Fund II interns, for example, started as a camper, became a counselor, and is now working for Audubon.
Colón stated that the scholarship is truly a great program that Audubon is excited and grateful for Wild Bird Unlimited’s long-standing commitment to supporting. She added that it’s incredible to see how one opportunity can influence an entire career trajectory, ultimately leading to a marvelous outcome of increased awareness for nature and wildlife.
Wild Birds Unlimited has surely assisted in garnering awareness of Audubon’s scholarship since many of the brand’s locations are not far from conservation centers and prime wildlife areas. Dawna Blum, a Wild Birds Unlimited franchisee in Woburn, Massachusetts, has a store location that is mere steps away from Horn Pond Recreation Area, an ideal place for nature lovers and bird watchers alike, and sits within close range of five Audubon centers.
Blum stated that the Woburn area is a bird watcher’s haven, and she has seen an influx of customers due to the parks and nearby centers. Audubon centers, in particular, serve as learning hotspots for her younger clientele and, in turn, those centers continue to drive traffic to her location. Blum has influenced many of her younger clients to pursue conservation initiatives such as the Audubon camp scholarships.
“I grew up with Wild Birds Unlimited since my parents were avid nature enthusiasts and bird watchers,” Blum said. “As a family, we always went to Wild Birds Unlimited and we’d practically buy out the store. So, when the opportunity arose, I wanted to own my own store. I’m not only servicing a community of fellow nature enthusiasts, but also servicing a younger generation of conservationists.”
Blum visits nearby schools, presenting on local wildlife and conservation initiatives to raise awareness for nature advocacy. Her Wild Birds Unlimited store also holds events such as free craft classes, like making a bagel bird feeder, and holds educational workshops teaching children and adults how to interact with birds in their own backyards and communities.
“It’s critical that children learn more about nature,” said Blum. “There could be a wildlife crisis in your own community. For example, in some areas, owls are being affected by efforts to control pest populations. Raising awareness of such a crisis is important so children are aware of nature and the role it has in our lives, too. When they are aware of wildlife, kids will be able to better understand how to share the ecosystem with others.”
Wild Birds Unlimited and the National Audubon Society aim to steadily increase the breadth of the scholarship program and its number of participants each year in hopes of raising awareness for nature and wildlife conservation. Both Colón and Blum are eager to continue nurturing a passion for nature in younger generations through the camp scholarship opportunities.