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New Jersey’s Nature Visionaries

Civic Warriors Episode 22 with NJ Audubon

"Everyone should have a right to high quality natural and park experiences in their own communities."

Brad and Ashley chat with Eric Stiles, CEO and President of New Jersey Audubon about the major benefits of being in nature and how time spent in nature is needed now more than ever not only for the people, but for the economy and for the health of communities as a whole. Understanding wildlife around you is for more than the local bird enthusiast. As a fundamental right, it is meant for and benefits all people impacting generations to come.

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This podcast was transcribed through a third-party application. Please disregard any misrepresentations.

Civic Warriors:
Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined, warrior.

Hosts:
This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Withum’s guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome. Through their stories we can join forces to become civic warriors.

Speaker 2:
Hey warriors. Welcome to the show. On today’s episode of Withum’s, Civic Warriors, we talked with Eric Stiles, the president and CEO of New Jersey Audubon Society. New Jersey Audubon is committed to connecting all people with nature and stewarding the nature of today for all people of tomorrow. On today’s episode, we discussed the healing power of nature, equity, inclusion, and racial justice, and how to do your part to help the environment and society as a whole. Let’s all welcome Eric Stiles to the show. So today’s episode of, Withum Civic Warriors, uh, is going to feature Eric Stiles, the President and CEO of New Jersey Audubon Society. And with me as always is, uh, Ashley Krompier, my cohost and I am Brad Caruso, ready to, uh, ready to talk about the environment and ready to talk about some things that, uh, hopefully can help, uh, help change the world. Um, so Eric, welcome to the show.

Eric:
Thank you so much, Brad and Ashley. It’s a real pleasure to join ya.

Brad:
Yeah, we appreciate it. Um, so I guess Eric, maybe, uh, maybe tell our audience a little bit about, uh, you know, New Jersey Audubon and yourself and give a, give a little background and then we can dive right in.

Eric:
Awesome. So the Audubon movement, uh, started from visionary women late 18 hundreds to stop folks from wearing birds as clothing and jewelry and so forth. Um, that had been the cause of a decline of birds. So it was very much a grassroots – you think about charity and, um, nonprofits in the United States was, uh, thanks to women, visionary women who really got involved and started stepping up. Uh, so New Jersey Audubon was, um, founded in 1897. Uh, so we’re 124 years old. Oh, wow. Um, New Jersey Audubon is all about the state of New Jersey. So we’re not part of a national organization. And, uh, since 1897 have really grown into a conservation organization. So we’re founded on birds and birding, um, became what, uh, one, two former board members and one current board member of said, um, for time period became a white men’s birding club. Um, and then rapidly grew from the 19, uh, late seventies through the present as a conservation organization. Really focusing on three drivers. One is educating, engaging people with nature and believing that’s a fundamental human right and not a Mark of privilege that is everyone should have that right to connect with nature safely and have a good, safe, welcoming, um, harassment free experience in their own communities, um, in their own places. The second is habitat. If you think about habitat as homes for plants, wildlife, fish pollinators. So we’re really saying how can we work with partners to recover and restore habitat throughout New Jersey? And then the third is wildlife themselves taking a look at how do we make sure that we keep common species common and recover where species like the bald Eagle? You know, that’s a great example of a success story where in New Jersey, we went from one pair in New Jersey from 74 to 87. And we now have over 200 pairs of bald Eagles everywhere from, you know, including the places like the Hackensack Meadowlands, right? So it’s not just kind of rural, no one lives there it’s really they’ve, um, come back to, uh, the garden state. So those are our three drivers and me, I’m a Jersey boy. I grew up a half a block from the Bay, uh, outside of Atlantic city and, uh, you know, love this state, um, and love the people of this state.

Brad:
Interesting. The bald Eagle comment too. So is that Eagle allowed at, uh, at giant stadium or no?

Eric:
Absolutely. You know, you can both love all the Eagles and the giants and I’m, I’m walking proof of it. My two winter hats are giants, uh, winter hats, so yeah. Yup. You can.

Brad:
Nice. So I also noticed that, uh, uh, Audubon cause you mentioned this before, uh, uh, before this, uh, today we, that you have a podcast too. I, uh, I listened to, uh, the most recent episode, your, um, coffee at NJ Audubon. That was a very, very, very good episode.

Eric:
Yeah. And I’m really excited and appreciate that with them is, is, um, elevating some of the work and the clients who work with, um, I think there is so much that unites us as a nation, as a people and podcasts, present that story at a time that folks may think, you know, we’re, we’re isolated and there’s a lot of different views on things, but there’s so much that bring us together in New Jersey Audubon. We recognize that folks have different political, um, views and religious beliefs and incomes and ethnicities and genders. Nature is one of those things that unite us all. And that’s something we want to celebrate and lift up.

Brad:
Yeah. I love that. And I think, you know, anyone we talked to that that is in the business that you’re in, you know, involved in conservation, involved in, um, nature involved in, uh you know, wildlife, I think everyone has that same thought process. And you made a couple, you know, I know, uh, a few things that you mentioned that I definitely want to talk further into, but, um, just, just the concept that, um, you know, from an equality standpoint and from a, um, uh, you know, the fact that nature is access to nature is a fundamental, you know, a fundamental right and unalienable, right. That we have. Um, you know, oftentimes I think when we, when we look at it, um, you know, not everyone always has that access to nature. Whether if you live in an inner city or you, uh, don’t have a car that you can drive, you know, transportation sometimes may preclude you from being able to access, um, some of the nature sites. I know in your most recent podcasts, you talked about Liberty state park and, and you know, what I found interesting about that was just, you know, a lot of ways to get there. And that was a, that was a big thing that needed to happen is, you know, you can’t, can’t just have, you know, one way to get to that nature. Um, you know, there’s a big racial justice component to nature. And I know in, in, uh, some other clients who work with too, it’s a big concept. Maybe if you want to touch a little bit on that, about, about your, um, you know, how you approach that as, as Autobon, as well as kind of your thoughts on nature being a fundamental, right.

Eric:
Absolutely. So for the listeners, um, I’m going to self identify as a white cis-gender hetero male grew up in the Christian belief system. And so those are the shoes I’m walking on. So I can’t, um, but I have a lot of friends and mentors, um, that have different shoes. So when you talk about the racial equity component, back in the early two thousands, New Jersey Audubon with our coalition of over 150 members from the farm Bureau, all the way to community-based organizations, we did an analysis of parks in New Jersey and by and large, um, communities like I grew up in Linwood, New Jersey, or live in now, Burnsville New Jersey access to nature was, um, it’s kind of pervasive as, as is clean air and clean water. And, uh, we need to recognize that, um, there are communities that, for which that isn’t true, and those communities tend to be racially diverse and lower income, right? So, so access to nature and safe access to nature tends to fall more along income lines. Um, and that’s true of the United States. And we know there’s many benefits of having access to nature and parks. So, um, some of them are surprising actually. So some of the obvious is folks that spend time in nature, lower rates of depression, lower rates of anxiety. Um, a cool fact is kids that spend time in nature and the outdoors have higher educational attainment. They do better on standardized testing, get higher grades and tend to show up to school more. Um, there’s also the physical health benefits, not a surprise. If you’re out there walking, you have lower rates of obesity, lower rates of diabetes, but one of the really cool things, um, is a well-maintained high functioning park in our urban communities. You have lower rates of crime. And the theory behind that is the neighborhood comes out to meet one another. And therefore the relationships build, um, experts would call that social capital. So people start keeping an eye out for one another. Um, the property values increase as well. So if, if you live close to a park, people want to live close to a park. Um, so there’s all sorts of benefits, right? And, and you start to say, well, these benefits really should accrue to everyone, right? It’s not like only some people should be able to invest in the stock market and other ones shouldn’t, some people should have access to clean air and others shouldn’t, you know, my kids don’t drink lead in their drinking water. Why is that okay for my kids, but not for every kid and the same thing with access to nature and parks. So to your point, and then there, there has well-documented, uh, racial profiling that does occur, um, folks of color in parks, where they’re disproportionately targeted, um, for, um, law enforcement for kind of questioning, um, that really sends a message that you’re not as welcome, right? So if I show up at a park, I’ve never, I’ve never been subject to that. I’ve never been, um, and I’m not, uh, uh, vilifying all law enforcement, I’m saying at, at a big, uh, institutional scale, uh, folks of color that, that go to parks have, uh, at, at a population level have a different experience than white men. Um, and, and that’s something we, we know that we can improve on. So that touches on kind of the benefits, the equity components, and then there’s just the wow factor, right? So you look at places like Newark Ironbound, big Brazilian community, right in the Ironbound. Well, we have birds from Brazil that are, that are wintering in Brazil that come here to breed. Like, how cool is that right? So urban parks in places like Newark and Jersey city and Camden, it also ties us together as peoples, um, and, and New Jersey Audubon also believes that wildlife has a fundamental right to exist, right. Independent of the benefits for people. Um, but there is a huge tie in as well to our agriculture. So you think about pollinators, you think about birds eat a lot of insects on crops. Um, pollinators are essential for over half of our food supply, um, in the United States. So there is no argument against conservation against making, uh, uh, it available for all in an equitable and inclusive manner.

Ashley:
Yeah. It’s basically fostering even new life and new, um, opportunity and new breeds of animals to even come, which I did not know.

Eric:
And the cool part of this. Thank you. Um, so with climate change, we’re seeing change occur in the wildlife species here. So some birds that would have never been here 70 years ago are now regularly here because of the warming climate things like, um, red, uh, red bellied, woodpecker, black vultures. Um, we’re seeing that even with fish species. So New Jersey fisheries is a huge, both recreational and commercial pursuit. Um, fish are, are their ranges now much further North, so things are changing. And then you look at the, uh, economic benefits as well. I think we, we chat about this briefly, but outdoor tourism in New Jersey is an $18.9 billion industry over 140,000 drug jobs directly from outdoor recreation. And it brings in over $1.2 billion in state and local taxes. So as we look to recover from, uh, the pandemic economically, that has disproportionately impacted those with the least the most, the outdoor tourism sector is going to be important part of that recovery. So, yeah, I mean it, to your point, you started having me think about the benefits to wildlife and that brings back benefits to jobs and, and people and communities.

Brad:
Uh, no question, w where do you see with, with the, you know, nearly tourism and the $18 billion? Where, where do you see that? Uh, I guess just in general, what, what types of activities do those, uh, did those encompass?

Eric:
Thank you, Brad. Great question. Um, so it’s everything from wildlife watching or, you know, fishing kayaking, picnicking, uh, would include camping. Um, just trying to, you know, getting out on just trail, just going out on your local trails and going for a walk or a hike, basically anything you can do, um, in nature would be comprises the outdoor tourism sector, the wildlife component of that, that is people that are specifically there to fish or wildlife watch is about 2 billion. And what I like to say is it’s very additive. So when my family, with our friends, we rent a place in Barnegat light, and we all kind of camp out, um, in, in the house where we’re going, my son is going surfing. Um, I’m body surfing, we’re going birdwatching, and we’re going fishing, right? So not that you’re either a birdwatcher or a Fisher or a surfer, a lot of folks that tend to do outdoor recreation activities tend to do a lot of them. Um, mountain bike riding would be another one, um, quite popular horseback riding another one that can be popular in parts of the state.

Ashley:
Yeah, that’s really interesting. So I’m actually reading a book currently. Um, and one of the chapters it’s about mindfulness and one of the chapters actually talks about our connection to nature and how, you know, back in the day, which really wasn’t that long ago, um, people were foraging for their own, you know, food, even to an extent and how reconnecting with nature can just make you feel more mindful. And then when you talk about the jobs, um, that ties into that too, it’s really so much more than us. And we’ve kind of separated from that

Brad:
Is that bad space, the head space founder’s book.

Ashley:
It’s not, it’s actually a different book, but it kind of just talks about how we’ve advanced so far, um, you know, technologically, and that can sometimes create a disconnect with our surroundings, but when we reconnect with that, it actually opens up so many more opportunities for our own mindfulness and then everything else kind of in between.

Eric:
Yeah, that’s awesome. Thank you, Ashley, that you think about a species we evolved from Africa on the Plains hardwired to be connected to the world around us, right? Whether it’s things of beauty, survival food. And so it’s really just the last hundred years, couple of hundred years, that we’re more and more like kind of this industrial post-industrial age. So all the things, all of our behaviors, all the things that we enjoy that we evolve with are not connected to a, um, a virtual meeting, but, but rather that outside of, uh, outside of us in the outdoors. And so it is interesting there’s studies that show the more time, um, both kids and adults spend on social media rates of depression, anxiety, isolation go way up. The flip side is we know that the more time adults and kids spend outside anxiety, depression sense of isolation goes down, right? So just, just to your point, um, and then you think about how important nature can be to our personal healing during COVID and coming out of that, like people’s anxiety levels are high, their stress levels are high. Their sense of social isolation is high. And so nature is one thing you can do. You can get out there now today, out on a park. And, and to your point, just get out in that forest, go to your favorite beach, go to your favorite city park.

Ashley:
And just observe. And the book. It was interesting too. It was fun. It was kind of funny to me because it seems so obvious, right? They give you ideas of things to start noticing, but I’ve been well actually walking on my neighborhood so much more of the past year, especially during COVID, even in the snow, like I’m actually tempted to go outside today. It’s snowy here in New Jersey, um, and walk around and you just start to notice so many more things. It does make you feel more grounded, but they give you suggestions, you know, even suggestions of look for a candy wrapped around the side of the road, but more so, you know, start to ignite. I started to kind of acknowledge and learn the different species that are in your area. It makes you feel so much more connected to your area. And definitely, especially during what’s going on now and coming out of that, it just definitely, for me, at least too, it makes me feel so much more grounded and connected and you start to see how the wildlife changes and I can see even like people do their landscaping, it’s just really, it’s funny, but it also a hundred percent is on the same page with everything that you’re, you’re talking about.

Eric:
Ashley and Brad, one of the fun things, like there’s been some silver linings of COVID and I’m not trying to, to spend this it’s been horrific, right. But people are spending more time outside than ever. And a lot more people are landscaping for wildlife. So actually to your point, um, whether you’re in a city apartment and you got a patio and you put out some potted plants that attract butterflies to just what you put in around your, your yard, because it’s inviting the wildlife back into our spaces, right? So as people spend more time outside, but people are also, um, increasing gardening for food. Um, so one of the silver linings, I think of COVID has been, people are reconnecting at much higher rates with nature and in all sorts of meaningful ways with their families and loved ones. And I love the fact that you’re now seeing here now, like, uh, seeing the wildlife in your own yard. And I don’t know about you if I don’t. I mean, there’s some days that I don’t really get outside and go for that walk, I notice it, like I can tell at the end of the day, when I, the days that I went out for like a three mile walk in the days, I didn’t, I don’t know about you.

Ashley:
Absolutely. Yeah. A hundred percent. And I used to, well now, and I even noticed the time difference. Like I noticed when the sun goes down, I’m just noticing many, many more things. I would be racing the clock to get outside before, uh, get all my work stuff done and then get outside. And some days it just wouldn’t work and I would be upset about it in the summer. I’d go outside right in the morning and at the end of the day and you notice different things and it definitely makes you feel good when you get a chance to be outside. And there’s so many bunnies in my neighborhood. There was a lot of different things that I discovered.

Eric:
Awesome. How about you, Brad?

Brad:
Yeah. I take my, I actually, uh, I got into a habit. I’ve got my golden retriever. We go for a walk every morning. So very early in the morning, usually, uh, sometimes when it gets a little warmer before dark, and then now it’s a, it certainly is a lot of, you know, it, it changes the day. And, uh, you know, sometimes I go with, you know, for awhile it was, you know, no headphones, nothing. He just, you know, walk around and feel the world around you. It certainly changes your perspective on the day or the days that I’m too lazy to do that. It certainly, uh, is different. And I, you know, you do notice the difference and, um, I don’t have as many bunnies. We have a lot of deer in our down. So I do notice the, uh. I know when it’s deer mating season, I know when the deer are out and about, and when they’re not out and about. And, uh, my dog tells me about it all the time. So, uh, but certainly, um, you know, there’s a lot to be said. I always found, um, you know, I view, I view kind of a, I grew up, I grew up by the beach, so I always found this, you know, this connection with the ocean that, uh, it definitely changes you. Um, and I think it’s ever a reason why, you know, real estate, you know, beachfront real estate is more expensive than anywhere. Um, or, you know, for the most part it is. I think it’s just there, there’s a different sound to it. You know, there’s nothing like waking up in the morning and just hearing, uh, hearing the sounds of the ocean, you know, the birds that are there and just, you know, the smell of the air. It’s just, it’s, it’s a different feeling. Um, if I could pack up move and, you know, go somewhere and not worry about work and never have to work again, I would definitely, you know, live on a beach or in a shack on a beach just to, uh, enjoy that. So, uh, I also do too frequent body surfing or, you know, going through the dishwasher. I, as I hear, uh, people are going through the washing machine, but I got pretty good at, I got pretty good at body surfing. I can definitely, I can ride a wave. Uh, I used to surf as a kid, so I, uh, have a pretty good feel for the, uh, waves and stuff. I, at one point I had a kayak where I’d had a surfing kayak, and I actually, uh, I would surf waves, uh, with the kayak, which was a lot of fun, but it was dangerous as heck because, um, not for you, but for everyone around you, because you have this like, you know, 55 pounds, seven foot long kayak. And so, you know, if you, if you got tipped over, you know, you gotta watch, you know, little kids are straight danger. So, um, definitely definitely experienced that before. And you’re doing here, you know, you’re fighting just to like grab the things. So you don’t cause any cause any hurt on anybody, but, uh, you know, actually you’re right. When, especially if we’re reading a book about mindfulness, I think the more and more that we start learning about ourselves and, you know, that concept came out. I don’t know how many years ago about being more in tune with your, you know, the way your body reacts to things and the way that you emotionally connect with things. Um, you know, I’ve read them, I’ve read so many books on it just cause it fascinates the heck out of me that like, you know, the simplest of things about how you’re pre-trained to react to things and that, and how you can change that. It’s, uh, certainly a interesting, interesting, yeah, definitely a big fan of nature. I’ll tell you that. I wish I could spend more time outside.

Eric:
I was chatting with, um, veterans group, uh, something new to me. Uh, Brad and Ashley is they’re finding as part of the PTSD recovery for our troops that are coming home from overseas, that if they incorporate the outdoors in nature in the program, just much better results for our, our vet. Um, uh, rich, just reflecting on, uh, both of your points about that mindfulness and that connection and learning about ourselves and our own kind of wellbeing. So, um, I thought that was a pretty powerful, um, as you know, just another Testament and in Brad, I have to serve kayaks in our family’s cottage in West Belmore. So I’ve been the person on the kayak with the tipping over and looking out for kids. So yeah, it’s mayhem and a lot of fun.

Brad:
Yeah. Yeah. I grew up, I grew up down in that and my sister lives, uh, right next to Belmore and, uh, I, I grew up in that little bit South of there, um, kind of in like the, uh, point pleasant type, uh, point pleasant area and South is where we used to, uh, go a lot. But, uh, yeah, I love that area. It’s just, uh, that area still has maintained the same, you know, after hurricane Sandy, it changed it, uh, with kind of like the house construction. It’s less like beach houses, more like modular, large, you know, modern day, three story, big houses. But, um, the beach is still, you know, still there still very similar to the way it was. So, uh, I wish I could be there right now.

Brad:
Uh, so Ashley, what’s your favorite? Um, like if you think about your, your happy place in the outdoors, what would that be for you?

Ashley:
Oh, good question. So I actually grew up boating. My family, uh, my parents are separated, both ended up continuing with votings. One ended up voting on a Lake and the other was down on the Bay in Toms River. So for me, it’s the Bay. And then I also love the mountains as well. I like hiking and doing all that stuff either or, but the day I’ll take any day.

Eric:
Yeah. So growing up, my dad was a professor at Stockton, small college in South Jersey. And, uh, one of the things he used to do, he grew up in long Island was we’d always find an old wooden boat. It’d become the family project. I mean, it would be on someone’s curb, right? Like, and, uh, we, you know, you have to swap out the bottom of the boat and we would work on it. Um, and none of us were particularly handy. So they, our repairs were not a thing of beauty. And then now you just put a new outboard on it. So I grew up boating the coastal Bay out behind Ocean City in Atlantic city. Um, and back in the day, I think of it like, it’s crazy now there’s all of like 12 or 13. And my dad and mom sent my brother and I to like a coast guard training program in Ocean City. This was before you had to have a license. And my, my parents had, as long as you pay for gas, you guys could go out on your own. So we started mowing lawns in the neighborhood to pay for gas, and then we’d take out the 18 foot boat by ourselves at 13 and 11 year old. You would never do that today. It’s not allowed anymore where I grew up like Linwood Summer’s Point. That was pretty common. And, and yeah, so I can, uh, both, both, uh, your observations of kind of the shore, the coastal bays, and now living in the mountains. Um, they’re, they’re great places to visit New Jersey.

Brad:
No question. Yeah. So I don’t know that there’s many people that would, that would you know, disagree. I mean, we live in a society of disagreement, but I don’t think many people disagree with the concept that, that, uh, you know, nature certainly has a transformative power on many. How do you bridge the gap between, you know, as we said before, it’s, you know, not everyone has access to it. Not everyone is able to appreciate it and not appreciate it, but not everyone to able to experience it the same way. Um, you know, are we talking about the right things at the, you know, call it the federal state local level to, you know, change that? Or does it need to be changed? You know, I dunno, I, it’s more of a, I mean, I know you live, live and breathe this probably more than I do, but you know, how do we bridge that gap? How do we, how do we get more people in nature? How do we get more, you know, less, uh, I don’t know, call it profiling or less, uh, access if you will, or how do we get more access? What, what are your thoughts on that Eric?

Eric:
We’re not where we need to be, but I think we’re heading in the right direction, um, in, so let me give an example. We have hundreds of millions of dollars to, to put sand on beaches in New Jersey. And I love going to the beach, but we don’t have 50 million to remove lead from drinking water in our poor cities. Right? So I think in this discussion about what our fundamental human rights and getting people to think about what is it that you enjoy and should that be a privilege, or should that be a right, is access to clean drinking water to, to air. You can breathe without, I mean, my son Nate had brutal childhood asthma. Now it’s much higher in a place like Newark because of the air quality. You know, it kind of breaks my heart. Like I know what we went through and we have good doctors and good access to healthcare and, um, and much cleaner air similarly. Um, you know, w w you look at Bernardsville and there’s a national park and New Jersey auto bonds property in a national wildlife refuge, just down the road. That’s my bad. I’m sorry. Um, and then you can think about the benefits to your family and then ask yourself, you know, shouldn’t everyone have this same experience. And then, and then it’s almost like a, a business plan. What are our current conditions? What would it look like if access to nature? We’re a human, right? And then what types of things can we put in place to, um, to fix that? And, um, I’m glad you identified each of those levels, Brad, because I think a local community really knows its own needs, right? So this is where it has to be a conversation. You know, you’re not coming into a neighborhood and creating a park for them. It has to be a park with. So an example would be, um, you think of folks like Indian Americans, cricket is a big part of their tradition, right? So when you design parks in communities that, um, for whom that’s an important activity, that may be a lot more important than a soccer field or a baseball field, right? So you can’t take a one size fits all approach. Um, working with communities that may be food insecure. So maybe that park featuring community gardening, right, where you have the opportunity to grow your own food is an important consideration. Taking a look at our big parks and not every park is going to have access via mass transit, but you know, more should like your Jersey city, um, Liberty state park example. Well, what about a round Valley or an Island beach state park where a kit may point state park or high point shouldn’t folks be able to get there on a bus to your point right now, it requires you to either live right next to it, or have a car and not everyone on everyone has a car, um, taking a look at what are the impediments to access. So a lot of our preserves, if, if you were not fully able, you would have a difficult time on our trails. So New Jersey Audubon is, is looking at saying, how can we increase accessibility just by way of the trail design and construction. Um, are you engaging people in more than English? Um, you know, uh, being mindful of different communities may have different languages. Another key element, there’s been some really cool studies done. If the staff at a site look like the community, people feel more comfortable. So as you hire staff that is fully representative of the diversity of, of the state, then you have a higher engagement rate, right? Because people see themselves in the staff there and implicitly, um, there’s a sociologist, um, out of Tufts University, Julian Agyeman that has done some of this research, you know, people, and you show them the design shred. Like here’s what the staff look like in scenario one, scenario two, they’re like, Oh, I want to go to scenario two. I feel, and then focus groups, right? So I think there’s a lot that we can do, and also take a look at where are the dollars flowing, right? So we have local monies and state monies and, um, very generous donors and federal monies. Are we making sure that our dollars align with our professed values? If we say it’s a fundamental, right, but we’re not investing in parks. And, um, uh, it could be rural poor communities like Salem County. It could be, um, could be a place like Camden or Jersey city or Patterson. Then it’s not really a value, right? So if you don’t put your money where your mouth is, and so New Jersey has done a really good job in the last 20 years to begin to address those equity issues in regards to doing more land preservation, more investment in our cities. Um, but we have a ways to go on that front. Um, other low hanging fruit would be taking a look at our mass transit systems. Um, like I, I said, and then some of it really is awareness. However, get a mentor and friend, we were talking about, um, his children’s experience with, uh, you know, going to parks versus my own. Um, and this friend and mentor, um, you know, was chased out of an open space as an open space official in his own town, by a white mob. I’ve never had that experience. Like, so until I hear that, like, so we need to listen, listen, learn. And it’s really about not pointing fingers per se, but moving forward, what do we need to do to ensure that, you know, you think about, um, uh, you know, just talking with a lot of friends that are women not feeling as safe in the outdoors from harassment and violence as men. Well, I want everyone to feel safe, like my experience, I’ve never gone to a park or a beach and felt unwelcome or unsafe, right? So like, if others don’t feel welcome and don’t feel safe and it’s not accessible, well, let’s all come together. Like, that’s pretty cool. Like, you know, that’s a, that’s a positive vision for the future. And so Brad, to your question, I’ve seen tremendous progress, um, in the conversation and, um, uh, practices over the last 20 years, we still have a ways to go

Brad:
And you bring up a great point. I think, I think that one great point is kind of what we take for granted a lot. Exactly. As you said, um, you know, the sense of, you know, do I don’t have a fear of that, you know, walking around my neighborhood. I don’t, I don’t have a fear of taking my dog for a walk in the morning. I’m sure there’s a lot of people that, uh, experience a much more traumatic and difficult scenario, um, than that. And so, you know, very simply when people say, how do we further society? I mean, if you create the environment where people feel safe, just walking in nature or walking in their community, uh, that, that probably will do a lot, a lot of good, more good than many of the things that, you know, we, our society focuses their time and attention on. And, uh, you know, I know you, when you were talking about it, it just kind of like dawns on you and you’re like, you’re right. Like w you know, I’ve never, I’ve never feared walking on a nature trail, but I’m sure a lot of people don’t have that same experience. And how do you know, we need to continue to further our society so that you know, that there is true equality and true equality. Doesn’t just mean that you have access to a true quality. It means that you, you know, go out of your way and make sure that everybody feels comfortable, you know, whether it’s, um, or, or as you said, there might be, you know, two different scenarios of people working at a place and, you know, maybe people feel more comfortable. Well, we need to get into a society where, you know, not only do we say we’re going to do things, but we actually, you know, the actions we take and the, and the environments we create are inclusive environments. And, and, you know, that’s, it’s not easy. It’s very, uh, it’s just not an easy, easy task, but if everybody has that mindset, you know, and, and hopefully the world has less and less angry white mobs of people. Um, you know, hopefully, hopefully that means that we’ll continue to move in that direction, which we all, I mean, I, I, I would say that we are just, as, I think people are much more S use the word mindful, uh, and this is the using the word in a different way, but we are much more mindful all of us now than we were 10 years ago, much due to social media, much due to the fact that people, you know, now people show what they’ve experienced and everybody’s like, Oh my God, that actually happens. You know, and we’re completely ignorant to it because we haven’t experienced it. And so, you know, certainly, um, the more and more you see those, and hopefully there’s less and less of the really egregious cases happening, uh, partially because the world is self policing itself with social media. And partially because you hope that human nature people are just becoming more and more in tune with their neighbor. And I fear in this COVID environment that, you know, the coming together part won’t have it as enough because we’re actually not physically allowed to, you know, we’re not like it’s being forcefully restricted. So, you know, hopefully that, uh, starts easing up as more people, uh, feel comfortable, get vaccinated, can experience, you know, being out and about without having the fear of contracting a contagious disease.

Eric:
And then the good news, I’m just thinking about what you’ve said. And Ashley said is making progress on this front. It isn’t, um, it’s a false choice to say we to invest in public health or nature, or, uh, economic growth or nature or physical, uh, mental, uh, educational detainment, or nature. Right. So by getting this right, the benefits that we’ve talked about that are so profound, um, and also for a lot of folks, um, being out in nature is part of their spirituality, um, Judeo, Christian, Muslim, um, you know, Hindu, Buddhist, um, I can’t, uh, you know, the, the, the first nations, like this sense of environmental stewardship and connections through, through religious beliefs is, is really, it’s amazing how common it is among those many cultures and beliefs like those benefits accrue to everyone. And that’s really exciting to your point, Brad, I think that, um, there’s no downside to this. And I do think that, um, organizations like New Jersey Audubon folks that, um, have a background similar to my own, we have a lot to learn and, and a lot of learning through asking and listening, but to your point, Brad, I’ve never felt unsafe walking my dog, you know, in Bernardsville police are awesome. They treat us like, they’re amazing. Like there’s a lost hiker they’re here. Right. So, um, all of the things that I take for granted, others can’t, but I don’t realize that unless I listen.

Ashley:
Yeah. Awareness piece, I think that’s like one of the biggest parts, like awareness for your neighbor awareness for nature, awareness, for the reality of what’s going on. Do you guys, um, so I guess on the topic of awareness, um, what do you guys do with any sort of programming or, um, working with schools or any other local businesses, what do you guys do on that front to kind of help spread exactly what you’re saying?

Eric:
Really good question. Let me unpack this internally and externally. So if you look at New Jersey Audubon and you look at the conservation movement in America is primarily Caucasian, um, tends to be, um, uh, more, uh, the members and donors tend to be more educated than Americans in general, and a little bit more affluent than Americans in general. And, um, if you only listen to your own group, then you assume that’s a universal experience, right? So, so I’m partnering with a lot of really good groups, um, that are working in different communities, rural and poor, and understanding their own experiences, their own needs, and S and then partnering as equals or peers, not in and taking credit for their ideas and their work. I’m not saying that we know the right solutions for their community. So we do a lot of partnerships. Uh, New Jersey Audubon would not, I would say like collaboration and partnerships are in our DNA. So we run many coalitions with schools. For example, we work with over 600 schools, statewide 41 or 42% of them are title one schools. Um, entitle one are the poorer school districts that tend to also verse, um, in the past environmental education was more available to, um, more affluent communities, schools that could afford it. Um, so New Jersey Audubon, we started our urban environmental education program in 84 or 85. Um, so that’s a core part of our work is really looking to connect kids with nature in their own communities and the thing they have in common, it could be a public school, a charter school, a religious school that we work with. We work with boys and girls clubs, um, within the space of our, um, advocacy work. We’re trying to pass pieces of legislation that secure the access to nature as a right. So that would be how and where we invest, um, parks dollars, um, as an example, and then internally providing a lot of training to our staff and board to broaden our awareness or understanding a language matters. Right. So the words you use matter, and again, doing a lot of listening, um, asking folks to tell you more about an experience you may not have had never lived in a city, my whole life sub suburb, and then kind of the country. So what do I know about living in, in Newark or Patterson or Camden? Not too much, right. I should say that, uh, our, our organization we’ve changed our, um, talking about line language matters. We’ve updated our bylaws to reflect the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice, extensive training. We have a staff working group, a board group, really recognizing that again, when we’re looking to connect people with nature, it’s all people and I’m representing the full diversity of the state recognizing that, um, not only people we serve, but looking to diversify our board and staff really to be reflect, you know, like there’s many economic studies that show that as you have increasing diversity among C-suite executives that both gender and racial, as well as the, those businesses are more profitable. If you go about it the right way as a nonprofit, it just makes you stronger, better and more effective.

Brad:
Yeah. And that’s a, that’s a great point. You just made that. I don’t, um, just in my travels, probably working with a hundred clients, I don’t know if everyone’s made the move you’ve made just on a very simple level, which, and by simple, I just mean it’s an easy change to make is in your actual bylaws and how you govern your organization. Um, that’s a big part of it.

Eric:
Sample. Um, thank you. So how did we change our bylaws, right. Yeah. Um, so we would add statements instead of connecting people with nature, we use the word all, all people, um, and then you can unpack that, or has probably like a language, a holdover from the 1950s, we use the word citizens. Right. And, um, what we’re interested in connecting you with nature, you being able to connect with nature regardless of your immigration status. Right. So, um, just, uh, when you show photos, show photos of the kids you’re working with reflecting the full diversity. So children see themselves, you know, not, not falsely, right? So it’s not like a stage photo. Um, but being mindful of the pictures you’re showing, um, diversity in gender diversity in race and ethnicity and names. And so people see themselves welcome and is a part of.

Brad:
Yeah, as you said, words matter and putting it in a legal document, you know, bylaws or a legal document that dictates how you govern your organization. I mean, that shows that words, you know, that shows that you, you truly believe it, you know, you’ve, you’ve, you’re holding yourself to that standard. And what’s interesting is what I’m starting to see a trend of. And this is not just in the nonprofit world, but, um, you know, I, I have a, I have a client right now that just started a, a, what’s called a B corporation of public benefit corporation, which is kind of the for-profit equivalent of a not-for-profit it’s, you know, you set up your, your organization to be socially responsible. You set up your organization to have certain policies and procedures that you want it to be governed by. And that includes your vendor relationships. That includes your customer relationships. That includes how you treat your employees, how you treat the world. Um, and it’s a model that I guarantee you’re going to see a lot more of the word B Corp come up, because you’re going to see a lot more organizations in the for-profit world who are always, you know, profit, hungry, realize that, you know, we are still profit, hungry. However, we also know that we can, we can achieve the same goal and further, you know, further society improves society, make, make the world a better place for all. And, um, you know, you’re going to see that a lot more. And, and so, you know, in those scenarios, they’re actual incorporating documents, you know, of, they create their charter of who they want to do business with who they are, what they care about, how they’re not going to discriminate, how they’re going to have a, um, uh, an environment of, of, of inclusion and diversity. And, um, yeah, yeah, I will, I will say in my, in my travels, I’m I know we’re going to see that more and more and more, and as we should, I mean, it’s, it’s a, it’s a very strong model and it’s a, it’s an accountability model too. So, I mean, it’s, you know, certainly there’s, there is increased scrutiny on you. And so you do have to hold yourself to a higher standard, but, um, I’m happy to hear you. I I’m, I’m happy that those, uh, uh, I’ve, you know, several clients that listened to this, and I know I guarantee they’ll take that advice and, and re-look at their bylaws and say, do we really say what we mean, uh, in there? So I love that you brought that up.

Eric:
And Brad and Ashley just for the listeners of self-awareness we’re at the beginning of this journey, and it’s going to be a long journey. Right. And an exciting and transformational one. So, so these comments were informed by Brad talking about accountability, right. So it starts with what you say, but then you’re judged on your actions. Right. And, and so we, you know, I just want to, you know, say that we’re, we’re aware of, of the growth that we need to undertake as an organization. We’re excited for that. We’re at the beginning of this journey and it’s going to be almost like a forever journey, right. Because the people of New Jersey change over time and needs change over time. So we’re, we’re really excited about this, but I don’t want to hold us up being like, check. We did what we need to do. I just want to, okay. I just want to acknowledge that, um, it is a top priority for us as an organization. We’re at the beginning of that, I think we have a strong foundation and a strong commitment. Um, but, uh, you know, we acknowledge, for example, if you looked at our staff were overwhelmingly Caucasian, right? We do well on gender diversity, we have, um, you know, very strong women leadership, uh, and actually higher rates, uh, within the board and staff, if you remove the CEO position, there’s one of me, um, self-identified white, man. Um, and so that’s good. Like, what are you doing while now? How do you continue those practices? What, what are the opportunities for growth? What are your next priorities? Uh, in which case the racial diversity is, is, you know, clearly a next priority for us, with staff and board and not just,

Ashley:
Yeah, I think, yeah, I was going to say that to it. I think it’s all about everybody creating like a really solid foundation. And then I think what’s exciting about it is generations that come up will expect more of all of the things that we talked about. And so I think it’ll help keep the ball rolling in a good direction.

Eric:
Yeah. I mean, I just saw it and you had me thinking about the for-profits face and, uh, Ashley and Brad, you’re gonna know lot more about this than I do, but I think of, um, black BlackRock being the first, you know, over a trillion in assets, really elevating environmental, social and governance, responsible companies, ESG, Goldman Sachs just did a huge announcement that ESG, instead of being like a one-off for them is going to be a core part of their, um, strategy for all their clients moving forward. So I think, uh, and then you, you talk about, uh, future generations, uh, if you look at interest in individuals and how they invest and where they shop much higher interest in values-based at younger and younger generations. So you look at gen Z and millennials, much more interested in, you know, where do we, where do I shop? What are the, what are those companies doing in this space, right? To your point, Brad, like, what, what are they saying? What are they doing? Or Ashley, you may be seeing, um, you know, some of your clients may be talking more and more about where are we investing our dollars as companies. And I’m excited. I think that’s a Brad, to your point, like that points a much brighter future.

Brad:
Oh, definitely. In the more and more that the big investment houses like that in the big, you know, had, uh, uh, I can’t think of the investment banks get into, into that and have that philosophy the more and more it’s going to trickle down because a lot of people take their advice. Right. So, so if they’re going to do it at that, you know, at that level much more, much more of society will start becoming more in tune, um, looking at their investment portfolios. Well, who, who are we really invested in? Is that a company socially and publicly responsible? Um, yeah, it’s, it’s, I mean, I, like, I think, I think it’s a, I think it’s a great move on a variety of fronts and, and so, you know, certainly, um, certainly it’s becoming more and more prevalent, uh, as you say, and, and nothing but good. So yeah, a lot of, a lot of positive things happening all around us that, um, yeah, I don’t think get as much attention as you as, as I would like to see. I feel like I feel like our, our, um, when we read the news and we watch TV, I, I feel like, I feel like we, we focus on certain things that it’s, it’s good that we focus on them, but I feel as though, you know, there’s not enough focus on other things like this. I mean, you know, the more and more you hear this, the more and more you say to yourself, why are we not talking about it more? Why are, why are, why are we not, you know, talking about social investing more and more and more, and why is that not a point of, of investigative journalism? And maybe it is, it’s just maybe just a less, less focused point. Um, but yeah, no, I’m, I’m great. Uh, great points, definitely.

Eric:
Well, there’s something Ashley said that also reminded me of unpacking kind of the experience and to nature. Uh, another friend and mentor who grew up in West Philly talked about just because a park is there doesn’t mean it’s equally accessible. So he grew up on the wrong side of the park. So he was in the predominantly poor black neighborhood. The other side of the park was wealthy. It was mixed race, but wealthy. And he talked me through what the side of the park looked like in his side of the neighborhood, no parking, it was trashed. You didn’t have trail heads, you didn’t have the signage versus the other side of that same park in Philly, you had all of those amenities. So I think, again, this is really taking a look at the, you know, listening to the community, because if you just looked at a map, you know, the three of us looked at a map, we’d be like, Oh, there’s this great park right in Philly, but it wasn’t, you know, it wasn’t the same experience. I’m sorry, Brad, you were going to ask a question and I just jumped in there.

Brad:
I was going to ask was, was, uh, you know, as we’ve been talking about a lot of this and a lot of the topic, uh, uh, on the environment is, is, you know, from a, from a call to action standpoint and from, from an Audubon standpoint, you know, you and I talked about before this, um, some things that, that many of us, you know, we talked a lot about things we can do, but a few of the things that we can do just on the, on the conservation front, um, that I was wondering if maybe you wanna, you want to share and talk a little bit about, uh, and also how folks in the, in the general public can help New Jersey Audubon continue to do the good work that you’re the great work that you’re doing.

Eric:
Thanks, Brad. I, I, I think people should hopefully listen to this and feel like, wow, there’s some exciting things happening. And I see myself in those exciting things. So as an individual or a family put in some plants for wildlife and then kind of brag about it in a, in a fun way to inspire others, national wildlife Federation. And we are their New Jersey state affiliate has amazing certification programs for backyards, for places of worship in schools. And you go online and you submit it, and then you get a assigned mail to you that you can put out. And it’s not, it’s like, Hey, this is a, this is a habitat for wildlife. And that’s really cool, um, where you can do that. Uh, you know, it doesn’t cost a heck of a lot of money and Ashley and Brad, you’re both talking about seeing wildlife in your own yards and what that meant to you, right? So, so that that’s a lot of fun. Most towns in New Jersey have open space committees that help make decisions and also recreation committees make decisions about parks and, uh, infrastructure at the parks and experiences. So, um, folks can volunteer for that and make a big difference in their own communities. If you think about, um, elected officials, I love the fact that the United States is a democracy. And so few realize they can just pick up the phone and call their mayor, um, or call their state legislator. Um, I started a conversation recently with local assemblyman here and, uh, just, I introduced myself not as New Jersey Audubon as a resident and a voter and talking about how conservation and wildlife was important to me. And, and, uh, just talk to the assemblyman about his work in this space. It didn’t cost me a nickel. It didn’t cost me Nicole. And he was awesome. It was great conversation, but just reach out as a voter. This is not partisan, right? So this is regardless of what you, your party may be just having that conversation. Um, and, uh, and being part of the political process, I think are, um, they hear politics and want to run away, but it, democracy only works if people participate. And our, our local elected officials, I haven’t met one that didn’t like talking to their constituents. Um, you can support an organization like New Jersey Audubon. Um, you can also volunteer for an organization like ours. We have 1700 volunteers that are all doing amazing work. Um, so people give us, um, other organizations, uh, it’s called the, you know, their time, talent and treasure. Um, and all of them make a huge impact. Um, your local schools get them to sign up to be an eco-schools. That’s our free program over, uh, 300 schools in that program. And we actually help teachers with lesson plans. Uh, some of the there’s three girls from middle school in Jersey city that actually designed a solar powered mosquito trap with compost, from their cafeteria at their local park to try and control MIS. And they won the state fair. And those kids, like, I look at those girls and they’re like, they’re a million times smarter than I’ll ever be. And I’m like, man, they’re the future. Right. So great. So there’s so many great ways that you, as an individual can make a difference. You can also take a look at, um, things in your own life and, and try and lower your carbon footprint a little bit, um, types of light bulbs. You have the kind of car you drive. Every little thing makes a difference

Brad:
Yeah no doubt. And you use the phrase time, talent, and treasure. Um, the, the board I’m on the executive director uses the phrase, work wisdom and wealth. And I was like, Oh, it’s the same threat. It’s the same thing with the alliteration of the three, uh, three W’s. You have the three T’s. Yeah.

Eric:
And, and, you know, some people have more time. And so that’s what they’re going to give. And, and what I’d say is like, volunteering for groups should make you feel good. It shouldn’t feel like work. And that’s the great news is there’s so many great organizations out there, a volunteer for one that you think is a good fit, do a job. Basically. It’s an unpaid professional job that you enjoy. Right. I hear you. I know all about that.

Brad:
I have a part-time job being a volunteer firefighter. I know, I know all about the, uh, you know, and I do say, you know, even though it’s 250 300 hours a year, it’s that, you know, I it’s not work to me and people say, Oh, isn’t that scary? Isn’t that hard? Isn’t that stressful? And like, no, it’s actually, it’s actually what keeps me sane in my regular day job. So there’s a lot to be said about volunteering

Eric:
And thanks for your service because when we have, uh, uh, the alarm goes off here, that’s a local, uh, volunteer crew that, uh, women and men that come out, um, here in Bernardsville so awesome. That’s a great example of someone, you know, contributing to their community. Yeah.

Brad:
There’s many ways to contribute and, you know, for some it’s that for others, you know, as Eric said, it certainly is, uh, there are a lot of things that you can do, um, and, you know, follow your passion. And, you know, as you’ve said, I think many people are passionate about the environment. Many people are passionate about their community. And, uh, and you solve both of those items by volunteering with you and other other organizations.

Eric:
So Brad, the one thing I forgot to say, and you and Ashley like hit this one out of the park is get outside and have fun connect. Yup. Um, there’s a lot of good groups out there in New Jersey. Audubon can help, I think, of New York, new, uh, New Jersey trail conference. It’s a lot of groups that if, if the outdoors are new to you that are welcoming, that would love to help, you know, connect you with the outdoors and nature. Um, so first and foremost, like get out there and enjoy.

Ashley:
Yeah. Yeah. And there’s so many ways to do it. Like I said, I’m so tempted. I see those now the snow falling outside is even fluffier and prettier than it was before, but just walking around your own neighborhood and then expanding into local hiking trails and stuff. And then I think once you do that, you start to gain an even deeper appreciation for the quality of where you’re exploring and maintaining it. And then that’ll hopefully lead them to volunteering with you guys maybe

Eric:
We’ll take it. Yeah. Folks. So we’d love to hear from folks if they’re interested in learning more,

Ashley:
Do you have, um, can you share with the listeners, your website or any social media or ways that they can reach out to you?

Eric:
Absolutely. And if you saw my face it’s because Audubon, unless you, you work here, you or your members spelling, it is a mouthful. Um, but if folks on the web or social media channels look for a New Jersey and then Audubon is a, is an Apple, you as an umbrella, D as in David, U as in umbrella, B as in boy, O as in Oscar, N as in Nancy, um, w we would love to hear from you, we have, uh, on our website, we have our calendar of events and there’s usually pre COVID over 10,000 programs a year, every part of the state. Um, so yeah, we would love to be part of connecting you with nature. And we’d love to hear from you. You may have some great ideas or suggestions as well.

Ashley:
Thank you so much for joining us today.

Eric:
Well, thank you so much for the opportunity. Really appreciate it. And it’s a great experience working with Withum. You all are, uh, what we appreciate, uh, kind of your company’s ethos is not only do you set the bar high, but you really help coach your clients, um, to, you know, constant learning and improvement. So thanks Withum.

Brad:
Yeah. Thank you. And that’s a testament to our friend, Cathy Bendall who, uh, who invited that in all of us. So certainly, uh, it’s passing down from generation to generation and we hope to continue and carry the torch the same way.

Eric:
Awesome.

Brad:
So yeah. Thanks for your time, Eric. And, uh, yeah, we appreciate it. And, uh, hope everyone enjoyed the conversation. Get out there, support your environment, support your organizations, and have a great day.

Eric:
Take care.

Brad:
Hey warriors. Thanks for tuning in. On the next episode of Civic Warriors, we’ll talk with Harrison Bernstein, from Soldiers to Sidelines about helping veterans apply their skills, become professional coaches, and create a new sense of purpose. Make sure to subscribe to Civic Warriors, and thanks for all your support. Have a great day.

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