Master of Arts (MA)
The Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center is located in West Brattleboro and serves the area drained by the West River (the West River Watershed) which is co-incidentally the same area covered by Windham County, in the southeast corner of Vermont.
The mission of the Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center is to cultivate a sense of place among the inhabitants of the local area, but a recent analysis of its membership revealed that it was reaching only a small percentage of the population. As a volunteer intern at the center, I took on this issue for my internship work. I developed a gardening project in conjunction with community members with the purpose of reaching a more diverse population, especially those who are constricted by their economic situation. This type of project was chosen as it seemed to incorporate the essentials of sense of place (active participation in the environment and community) in a way that was both accessible and relevant to a low income population.
Although the project was small and may have been too short in time span to draw conclusive data, early indications seem favorable for this project to grow and have a lasting impact in terms of BEEC's mission of promoting a sense of place among the participants. Already there are signs of commitment to the project, increaseed interest in the local environment, and a sense of pride and caring about the gardens.
Since formal questionnaires proved inappropriate for this population, I chose to produce a video where each of the consenting participants described what the project meant to them. I did not pose specific questions so as not to lead them in any particular direction, I let them describe the experience for themselves.
An extensive review of other similar projects in a variety of countries (see "The Supporting Literature") reveals high success rates in such endeavors. Recommendations include maintaining some sort of participatory structure that will oversee the project, provide energy, and initiate necessary actions, and funding that will allow improvements to be made as they are discerned by the participants.
Kroll, Susan, "Using a Garden Project as a Venue to Promote Environmental Awareness and Appreciation, Community Involvement, and "A Sense of Place" among a More Diverse Section of the Community" (1996). Capstone Collection. 1183.