Wild Earth breaks new ground - BlueStone Press
October 24, 2017

Wild Earth breaks new ground

A new home in High Falls makes all the difference

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Wild Earth is a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting people with nature. On the surface, it might not seem that moving its base of operations from New Paltz to High Falls would have profound effects on this business. However, a talk with David Brownstein, the executive director, reveals just how much the space people work in can affect the work they do.

Wild Earth’s new home, just off the crossroads of Lucas Turnpike and Route 213, is a handsome old two-story clapboard house owned by Patchen and Marisa Podes. Inside, there is still very little furniture. The newly refinished floors glow in the sun that comes pouring in the windows as the employees come in and out, continuing the process of moving.

Wild Earth’s old headquarters were in the village of New Paltz. “We had two rooms maybe the size of this,” said Brownstein, sweeping his hand around an upstairs meeting room containing one large table. “We were growing fast and furious. We were all on top of each other there and had very little space to work. Part of our model is re-creating a healthy village,” he went on, “ and it’s hard to do that in a two-room office.”

This is probably especially true for a group of individuals that has a collective passion for the great outdoors. The culture of the workplace has room to expand as well. “Now we have more space to have discussions,” said Brownstein with satisfaction, “ and an outdoor space where we can build a small firepit and bring together our instructor community. We can cook together, eat together, sit by a fire together.” Every employee can also now have his or her own desk instead of sharing space around a table as in the old office, having to listen to each other’s phone conversations. There are currently six full-time employees of this growing business who split their time between fieldwork and office work, joined at times by two administrative assistants. The new address can handle this size staff and more.

“Wild Earth is a nonprofit with a social mission,” said Brownstein. For that reason, they don’t buy property. “We don’t want to tie up money in real estate, unless we’re buying land for our programs. We focus any excess money we have on funding programs.” Their new landlords, the Podes, live in the area and also happen to attend Wild Earth programs as a family, so the relationship is a happy one. “High Falls is much more in the center of where we’re working. We do programs in Accord. It used to be the office was over the mountain from where our programs were. We’re more centrally located -- close to Kingston, where we’re doing more and more programs, and close to Accord. We use land off of Stonykill Road and Granite Road that Mike Fink and Karen Pardini are kind enough to allow us to use on a regular basis. They’ve been letting us use their land -- at a bargain price -- since we were founded.”

Brownstein did not start out in the nonprofit world. “I worked on Wall Street for about 13 years.” Though he wasn’t an outdoors type, he said, “I like solving problems. I saw the fact that kids aren’t getting outside to play in the woods anymore as a problem.” He ended up co-founding Wild Earth with a few other people and choosing a life about as far from Wall Street as he could get, at least psychically. The goal of the organization is both simple and profound: “to get kids -- and adults -- outside and into Nature.”

Among its most popular programs are the summer camps Wild Earth runs for kids of various ages (and yes! there are opportunities for grown-ups). But the staff is always looking for new ways to serve the community. This spring, Brownstein said, “we are doing an Alternative to Incarceration program, in collaboration with the Youth Shelter Project of Westchester.” The young men, aged 16-23, who live in the Westchester residence “will be coming up for a day in the woods on our land in Accord. This is really exciting for us, to bring outdoor education and personal empowerment to those folks.” Also this spring, “We’re working on a new program in the Kingston schools. Every fifth and sixth grader in the Kingston school system will have received a Wild Earth program this year. We’re using land up in Ulster that the Scenic Hudson Land Trust allows us to use to take kids on field trips for a real nature-immersion experience. We think it really helps build character, confidence, passion and perseverance.”

As a nonprofit organization, Wild Earth is largely dependent on donations.“Financial resources are super-helpful to us to get more programs out there. For instance, we are paying 75 percent of the cost of the Alternative to Incarceration program ourselves.” Donations of time and expertise, Brownstein added, are also welcome. “We’re always interested in volunteers who love to work with kids.”

For information on the staff and programs, volunteer opportunities, or how to donate, visit wildearth.org

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