Submitted by Keta Legacy Foundation
Virtual reality. Open-air classroom space. Online underwater dives. Local environmental education groups throughout the Puget Sound are eager to reconnect with their students and have been developing strategies to adapt to COVID-19 while also trying to navigate new challenges in raising money when traditional fundraising events are on pause.
Friends of the San Juans received $5,000 to develop a science education program for high school students using virtual reality to connect students with the local marine food web. Students experience the virtual reality of underwater divers and field scientists to observe herring, sand lance, juvenile Chinook and more. The virtual nature of the program makes it possible to adjust the program whether students are in the classroom or learning from home.
The Kitsap-based Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, announced its latest round of grant funding for conservation-focused projects throughout the Puget Sound region. Many of the programs are aimed at outdoor education for youth and are developing innovative strategies to maintain projects during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Foundation’s community grants program, which shared its 50th anniversary with Earth Day in April, has funded hundreds of projects over the decades. It awards two rounds of grants every year. Level 1 grants of up to $5,000 are typically awarded in April, and Level 2 grants of up to $15,000 are awarded in November.
COVID-19 forced the Foundation to think differently about this year’s applicants. The committee asked applicants to provide additional information about how they would adapt their programming to ensure physical distancing and other reopening requirements. Renee Johnson, the Foundation’s Grant Committee Chair, said the opportunity to support innovative or outdoor-based education holds even greater significance during a time that many people crave outdoor experiences and are more limited in their ability to gather indoors or in large groups. She also said several organizations described how challenging it’s been to raise money without the ability to host traditional fundraising events.
“Our mission is to connect people to healthy ecosystems. We support outdoor environmental education projects that spark a love of nature, and this year we also needed to consider projects that could adapt to this uncertain new normal,” said Johnson. “Conservation education is often face-to-face and hands-on. And at this moment, people are especially eager for outdoor experiences and social connection. But we have to do it differently. Our applicants are all thinking creatively, from reconfiguring classrooms in an open air space to incorporating online learning and virtual reality. We’re extremely proud to partner with and support their work.”
The foundation received 15 applications for Community Conservation Education Grants. The seven projects awarded funding included $5,000 to Friends of the San Juans; $4,000 to Friends of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands; $5,000 to the Pacific Shellfish Institute; $4,000 to the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance; $4,000 to the Port Gamble S’Klallam Foundation at Heronswood; $5,000 to the RE Sources for Sustainable Communities; and $4,000 to the Washington Environmental Council.
More information about the Foundation’s grant program, including past recipients, is available at https://ketalegacy.org/grants/.