NatureTrack’s mission is to foster a lifelong fascination with nature through outdoor field trips, but COVID-19 makes the logistics of these excursions more challenging. And with kids still mostly learning from home, it became more difficult for NatureTrack to reach its target audience.
That’s when founder Sue Eisaguirre had an idea, a way to put outdoor exploration into a new format and then distribute it to the kids who need it most.
“I came up with it after I had read an article about how many kids nationwide were not getting their meals that they normally would get when school was in session, because they didn’t have a means of picking them up at the schools,” Eisaguirre told the Sun. “I thought we could help them out by delivering the food and then with each delivery, give a little nature card that gives them an activity that they could do right there in their backyard.”
After pitching the concept to the Lompoc Unified School District (LUSD)—which, incidentally, had just identified families who didn’t have the means to pick up the free meals the district offers—“nature notes” were born. Eisaguirre calls it “nutrition with a side of nature.”
Since December, Eisaguirre and NatureTrack’s team of volunteers have delivered meals to LUSD families every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and they plan to continue the effort until kids are back in school. With each delivery, the team drops off a nature note, a journal, and a small pencil.
“It just happened to be the right timing to call [the school district],” Eisaguirre said. “They needed the service, so it was meant to be. And it gives us a way to still do what our overarching goal is, and that’s to connect kids to nature.”
So far, NatureTrack has created a set of 19 nature notes and hopes to expand it up to 30 in the near future. One card leads children through a weather observation; another includes a baggie of paint samples, encouraging participants to match the colors with what they find in nature; another instructs kids to make a sound map, recording any outdoor noises they hear into their journals.
“The volunteers have all helped with these cards too,” Eisaguirre added. “Jenny Morrell, our program director, has been creating them in InDesign. We had a pool of volunteers that sent in ideas. We’ve got one on bugs, rocks, animal tracks, cloud watching, shelter building, a scavenger hunt,” and the list goes on.
Normally known for its outdoor excursions, NatureTrack also found a way to bring field trips online with virtual trips. Teachers can use them as a resource for their classes, and then students can look back on the “trip” or share memories with their parents by rewatching the video.
“This was one of the ways that we reimagined what we can do during COVID,” Eisaguirre said. “Our hope is to continue to do this, so that even when we’re back out on the trail, it’s great for the kids when they get back to go show their parents where they went, or just to review.”
Earlier in the pandemic, NatureTrack was able to adjust its transportation methods to safely take kids on in-person, outdoor field trips. But currently the numbers are too high to do so.
“Before this second lockdown, we were working with the YMCA in Lompoc and doing field trips for their pods. So we’ll go back once we’re allowed to get out and partner with them again,” Eisaguirre said. “Most of the kids have a minimal day, because they only are online 4 1/2 days out of the week, so on those minimal days is when we try to schedule these trips and take them to the beach or trails or wherever.”
In the meantime, NatureTrack will continue to deliver “nutrition with a side of nature” to Lompoc Unified School District students who need it, and it’s finding alternative ways to celebrate its 10th year serving the community.
“I’ve been pulling together photos of the last 10 years. That really brings back some good memories, just to remember some of the activities that we did in different times,” Eisaguirre said. “It’s been a strange year, but like everyone else we get together on Zoom. … It’s a great group of people.”
• The Central Coast Rescue Mission—an outreach ministry that provides hot meals, a residential recovery program, transitional housing, and vocational training and placement for men—announced Jan. 15 that Chris Rutledge was named director after serving as the interim director since August, and as program manager for three years before. Central Coast Rescue Mission has continued to serve vulnerable community members throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Staff Writer Malea Martin wrote this week’s Spotlight. Send tips to [email protected].