The Wild Things Partnership

It can be a surprise to stumble upon the stream behind Rhoads for the first time or espy one of the resident hawks on campus, but Bryn Mawr’s natural areas, over 135 acres, are extensive and shelter many wild inhabitants. Looking for a way to foster enjoyment and preservation of this environment, while bringing together staff, faculty and students, Raz Mason ’98 formed The Wild Things Partnership last spring.

“The trees, bird life and calming streams have been an essential part of my experience here,” said Mason, a McBride Scholar who came to Bryn Mawr from the Pacific Northwest in late 1993. “Over the years, I’ve wanted to participate more actively participate with others in enjoying and giving back to the College’s environment.”

Bob Burton, new director of grounds and campus horticulturalist, found in The Wild Things Partnership a catalyst for his ideas to restore neglected areas. Their first collaboration helped to designate natural and ornamental habitat zones, which will in turn enable the Grounds Department to develop short and long range ground management plans. Burton’s goals for Grounds include providing continuing educational opportunities for Grounds Keepers and educating the community about the nature and purpose of the department’s tasks and projects. “... the purpose of a landscape in an education setting is to provide recreation, a way to go from building to building and a sanctuary from the stresses of our modern society,” reads the beginning of the Grounds’ Departments mission.

Just a few of the collaborations between Grounds and Wild Things that Burton envisions are: creating a mountain stream habitat in Rhoads valley; rejuvenating Morris Woods (surrounding English House); establishing a moss garden and outdoor classroom under the beech trees by Radnor; and developing an “Adopt A Garden Program.” There are over 10 to choose from.

Dean of the College, Karen Tidmarsh ’71 is very pleased that the project is underway. “I lived on campus in an apartment in Arnecliffe for many years, and I was always both thrilled and saddened when I would see a family of fox or deer looking somewhat incongruous on the freshly-mowed lawn in the early morning. There is so little open space left in this area that the campus has become home and refuge to increasing numbers of birds and animals.”

Wild Things’ goals
Hands-on activities in nature, particularly on campus, which enhance our understanding about and relationship with wild things. Examples are nature walks, bird walks and species counts.

Plantings and habitat improvements to attract wildlife — especially birds and butterflies.

Collaboration with community-wide organizations Groups such as the Lower Merion Conservancy provide nature-focused activities we can join. We in turn can offer events in which the larger community can take part. Children: They are the future stewards of nature and love being in it. Offering activities for children can benefit them, their parents, and the larger community; Volunteers: Good organization, along with the energy from volunteers who are passionate about what they’re doing, is the best recipe for successful events and a sustainable organization.

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OWLS on the prowl

By Ray Simon

What could compel a college student to get out of bed at 7 a.m. on a Saturday, only to spend the morning picking up garbage in a West Philadelphia park? As Heather LaVine ’00, will tell you, there was plenty to tidy up. But rather than focus on the chores, she took the opportunity to get to know freshmen from her dormitory and folks from the neighborhood.

LaVine was not the only Bryn Mawr College student working that morning. On Saturday, September 13, roughly 400 freshmen boarded busses that took them all over the Main Line and the city of Philadelphia for the OWLS Community Service Day, affectionately known as “Owls on the Prowl.” In total, 29 Customs Groups, which are formed for arriving freshmen to orient them during their first year, fanned out around the area in order to assist 20 different volunteer organizations. Students raised money for the Bryn Mawr chapter of Habitat for Humanity by washing cars; cleaned graffiti off buildings on Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia, and prepared meals for people with AIDS at MANNA’s headquarters in center city Philadelphia, to name just a few of the projects.

LaVine accompanied Customs Groups from Rock 3rd floor and Rhoads South 1st floor to Carroll Park at 58th and Girard, where community residents and the Pennsylvania Horti-cultural Society recently embarked on a long-term project to spruce up the park. From 8 a.m. until just past noon, students worked with neighborhood residents picking up garbage, raking leaves, painting benches, and spreading mulch around freshly planted trees.

The morning’s work also afforded students the opportunity to get to know one another better and with the chance to meet people outside of the Bryn Mawr College community. “The morning was personally fulfilling because I was able to work on my own and gather my own thoughts, to work with other students and learn more about them, and to work with people from the neighborhood and gain a greater appreciation for the diversity of the human race,” LaVine said.

After bundling bags of trash and packing the rakes, brooms, and shovels into Horticultural Society pickup trucks, everyone took a well-deserved break. Neighbors treated the Bryn Mawr students to hoagies from a nearby deli, and all mingled in the park’s plaza, where they chatted about the morning’s work and snapped photos of new friends.

“I had a rather lengthy conversation at lunch time with a boy from the community by the name of Mordecai,” LaVine said. “He’s a senior in high school and just has an amazing thirst for knowledge. It was wonderful to speak with him.”

As LaVine’s experience shows, cleaning a park in West Philadelphia provides ample opportunities to learn: Learning to make new friends, learning to join together with friends or even strangers to accomplish meaningful work, and learning to place one’s college education in the context of the larger community.

“Any time a student takes on a new task or puts herself in a new setting, she learns something about herself,” explained Judy Balthazar, assistant dean of the College. “Some of the assignments required physical labor; some required working in impoverished neighborhoods. The idea is to take students away from the comfort and familiarity of Bryn Mawr, ask them to stretch their limits a bit. Furthermore, working for several hours with others from your group often does act as a bonding experience.”

The OWLS Community Service Day is just one of a number of activities falling under the rubric of the OWLS Program, which is designed to help freshman make the transition from high school to college. “The OWLS Program was created as a vehicle to build a sense of community between students, faculty, and staff,” Balthazar said. “It provides a continuing structure of events throughout the fall and winter for the Customs Programs, which previously had been completely free-form once Customs Week had ended. Situations arise where faculty, staff, and upper-class mentors can help first year students talk about whatever issues crop up in the freshman year — homesickness, study skills, negotiating in a community.”

Unlike the other Customs Programs, the OWLS Community Service Day brings students off campus in order to remind them of their membership in a greater community outside the confines of the college. “The students loved talking to the people from the community,” said Harriet Newburger, associate professor of economics and an OWL mentor, who accompanied students to Carroll Park. “They enjoyed it far beyond their expectations. They felt that the neighborhood opened up for them and that they could be a part of the group rather than outsiders.”

Saturday morning’s program marked the fourth anniversary for the Service Day. The planning committee, comprised of a core group — Balthazar; Assistant Dean and Director of Student Life Programs Chuck Heyduk, Ph.D. ’82; and Director of Residential Life Jennifer Goldberg — and joined each year by a shifting group of OWLS and students, began organizing this year’s program last March. This year the committee added an extra week between the end of Customs Week and the Service Day. This extra time allowed students to settle into their dormitories and acclimate themselves to classes, and, most importantly, it gave the planners an extra week to drum up interest. It is Balthazar’s sense that this year’s program was the most successful in terms of full participation.

The months of careful planning and all of the morning’s hard work converged as the two Customs Groups left Carroll Park and returned to Bryn Mawr by bus. Despite minor aches and the bone-tired feeling that results from hard work, the students were livelier than they had been at 8 a.m. They talked about what they had done that morning, the people they had met, and the value of the OWLS Community Service Day, precisely the kind of camaraderie and communication the program was intended to foster.

Freelance writer Ray Simon accompanied the Carroll Park OWLS group and pitched in to help with the work as he observed.

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