Children sit around in the Eugene Public Library listening to facts and stories about owls. They’re drawn in and attentive, hanging on to every word concerning the bird of prey. And who better to tell these kids owl facts than a giant owl.
Beth Stein, the executive director for Nearby Nature, has been known to combine her passions for storytelling and dressing up in costumes and put them to good use in educating children about nature and their surrounding environment.
Since her years as a student at the University of Oregon, Stein has always been involved with and passionate about environmental education for children. Despite pursuing a degree in English Literature, Stein has always aspired to do something in the field of environmental education. During college she had done an internship where she created a recycling and waste awareness curriculum for elementary school students. Now, Stein puts her passion into Nearby Nature, a local camp for kids that teaches them about the environment in fun and engaging ways.
A poster on the UO campus is what initially drew Stein to Nearby Nature in 1993. As a camp that teaches kids about the outdoors and the environment through summer day camps, after school programs and field trips, Nearby Nature would provide Stein with the perfect place for her to put her passions to good use.
What started out as grant writing and helping with youth activities, for Stein, soon turned into paid work for the relatively small kid’s camp. Since starting, she has done everything from training volunteers for camps to dressing up in costumes for camps and programs.
Stein recalls working for Nearby Nature being lots of fun when she first started. “We couldn’t really support ourselves financially,” Stein said of the beginning years. Even though the small group of people it was then is different than what it is now, it’s still enjoyable for Stein to come to work each day for the camp.
“It’s still lots of fun today, but we are bigger and more solidly supported in the community,” Stein said. Nowadays, more people participate in and are supportive of programs that Nearby Nature does. A big supporter of Nearby Nature is the Eugene Public Library.
Stein often helps out with the library’s summer programs and Sunday Family Fun, a weekly hour-long program for kids and their parents. Claire Ribaud, a library assistant at the downtown branch has enjoyed working with Stein and Nearby Nature for several years.
“It’s an engaging way for kids to learn about the natural world and cultivating caring about it,” Ribaud said of Nearby Nature and Stein’s storytelling work. Ribaud has enjoyed watching Stein interact with children and parents at the library, getting them engaged and interested in the environment through stories and crafts.
Stein is more than just the Executive Director at Nearby Nature. She manages a lot of the education programming and is the lead programmer for the School Nature Walks Program. Out of all of her responsibilities planning programs, organizing events and writing grants, Stein especially loves the storytelling aspect of her job.
Stein has become a storyteller as part of her nature education work and loves telling stories. “I have found [stories] to be a really great way to connect with kids and adults of all ages,” Stein said. For Nearby Nature’s camps, Stein has collected stories from all over the world that would engage kids. Stein even trains volunteers to tell these stories during their camps as well.
While storytelling is definitely one of Stein’s favorite parts about working in nature education with Nearby Nature, interacting with kids is also amongst her favorite things about her job. “There are an infinite number of moments that make you feel happy and add humor to your day when you work with kids,” Stein said. One thing she always loves about working with kids is when they yell out things like “this is the best field trip ever!” while out on nature walks.
Working almost full time at Nearby Nature takes up a lot of Stein’s time. But she still manages to do the things she enjoys with her time off (among which include hiking, biking, canoeing, camping, reading and spending time with her family and friends). Even with a time consuming job, her passion for working with kids and educating them about nature and their surrounding environment keeps her going day to day.