A Night to Remember

Wow! What an evening!

As ECO begins its 15th anniversary year, we could not be more grateful for your support and for the whole ECO community. ECO’s 3rd Annual Garden Party was our most successful yet, with donors stepping up to create 23 new scholarships for hands-on ecology lessons, after school programs, field trips, and outdoor summer camp!

Tanna Engdahl serves on the board of the    Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Preserve    with ECO’s Executive Director, Alex Earl.    All photos by Wasim Muklashy   .

Tanna Engdahl serves on the board of the Friends of Ridgefield National Wildlife Preserve with ECO’s Executive Director, Alex Earl. All photos by Wasim Muklashy.

We had the honor of receiving a land dedication led by Tanna Engdahl, the spiritual leader of the Cowlitz Tribe, who gave our event a truly meaningful and appropriate start. She recounted the history of tribal people in the region and said ECO and its community are walking in the footsteps of those who came before us, as stewards of the land. 

Julie Baweja led us all in a hands-on plant ID activity. All our guests experienced the hands on, interactive, fun activities that students love. 

We heard from our Board President Jess Martin, who reflected on ECO’s 14 incredible years, and then introduced our new Executive Director, Alex Earl, who described the amazing opportunities ECO will embrace as it moves forward. Our co-founders, Sarah Woods and Bethany Shetterly Thomas, were just a little excited.

We also watched a video about the Avangrid Live Greener Grant from the Trailblazers Foundation. It’s one of the many incredible partners that ECO is honored to work with.

We raised a paddle, played Last Hero Standing, and drew a raffle winner for a deluxe Burley Bike trailer! Thank you so much to Burley for donating this amazing prize.

Throughout the evening, quotes from students, teachers, and parents reminded us why we were gathered to support ECO:

“Ecology can change my life by knowing what I can do to make the environment a better place” ~ a 4th grader at Bilquist Elementary School

“ECO opens our eyes to the fact that a lot of kids have no prior knowledge or exposure to ecological education. This program is motivational for both students and teachers. It unites communities and expands our limited vision of nature around us.” ~Teacher feedback from Kelly Elementary School

“Nature makes me feel free!” ~ a dear nature letter from a student

Your generosity is making a profound impact and difference. In the 2019/2020 school year, you will reach over 6,000 students in 14 school districts, as ECO serves students in grades k-12—more than ever before.

On behalf of the ECO Team, thank you so much for your support!

Left to right: Alex Earl, Claire Baldwin, Maura Milder, Julie Baweja, Becca Strohm, Sarah Woods, and Reade Weber. Please note: we have additional fabulous staff members who are not pictured here!

Left to right: Alex Earl, Claire Baldwin, Maura Milder, Julie Baweja, Becca Strohm, Sarah Woods, and Reade Weber. Please note: we have additional fabulous staff members who are not pictured here!

And a big thank you to our event sponsors:

garden part sponsors.jpg

The Expanding Story of ECO

©2018 Wasim Muklashy

©2018 Wasim Muklashy

Carus Elementary School.

Canby, Oregon.


Where it all began.

It’s hard to believe it’s been 14 years since that first time ECO stepped into a classroom. What started as a program for 400 students in a single school has blossomed into…well, we’ll get to that.

But first, since that fateful day in Canby, we’ve spent the subsequent 13 years racing around the Portland Metro area delivering our unique hands-on ecology programs in a dozen or so elementary schools, zealously  applying for grant after grant, and seeking one donation after another, all in an effort to reach the underserved students in our communities.

Then, in the spring of 2018, we felt it was time to set our sights higher - statewide.

While we had intended on steering a gradual course towards our new goal, in actuality, it happened so swiftly - and serendipitously - our collective legs are still running to catch up. Our efforts all culminated in the Summer of 2018, when we were afforded the opportunity to take a few humongous steps.

It was then that we absorbed three established, similarly aligned programs that expanded our geographical and programmatic reach substantially. Through this series of mergers, we grew from K-5 to K-12, added after-school and summer programming, created an ECO hub in Eugene, and introduced our programs into schools on the central coast.

Furthermore, we also threw ourselves headlong into curriculum development, building out our tried and true science lessons into multi-disciplinary place-based kits for eventual use by educators across the state. ECO went from a team of six to a team of 11, from 2,800 students across three districts to nearly 6,000 in 14.

That’s 1% of all Oregon students in 90 days!

We are so grateful for the schools, the parents, the volunteers, the grantees, educators, districts, partners, sponsors and everyone who has trusted us and led us to this moment.

This space.

This opportunity to make these tremendous leaps!

Last but certainly not least, thank you for the work of Jim Grano, founder of Siuslaw Stream Team in Florence, Oregon, Steve Kennet and Becca Strohm of Dig-In Community, and Lauren Rosenstein of The Green Schoolhouse for putting the legacy of their incredible programs in ECO’s hands. We are certainly stronger for it and take their trust in us seriously!

And now, allow us to introduce you to the work of these programs and their dedicated visionaries:

Jim Grano

Siuslaw Stream Team, Jim Grano

In 1995, Jim Grano established the Siuslaw Steam Team on the central Oregon coast and anticipated by more than a decade the current environmental literacy efforts of the “Leave No Child Inside” movement and its goals. Jim has worked to bring ecologically-focused, field-based studies to elementary students in Florence, Mapleton, and Reedsport. His program, an integral component of STEM education, has given thousands of students a chance to learn hands-on and in the field about the natural resources of their area, and to participate in on-the-ground research and stewardship efforts.

The Siuslaw Stream Team, with enthusiastic community support and through local, state, and federal partnerships, has been highly successful and has led to significant watershed restoration in the Siuslaw and Umpqua river basins.

With Jim retiring, there is a need for this work to continue, and ECO is thrilled to carry on what he began nearly 20 years ago.


The Green Schoolhouse, Lauren Rosenstein

Nearly a decade ago, Lauren Rosenstein founded the Green Schoolhouse, an outdoor summer camp and after-school program rooted in sustainability education. Last year, through a handful of conversations between Sarah Bercume (ECO’s co-founder and Director of Operations) and Lauren, a synergy emerged. Together, we could align our efforts, pool our strengths and resources, and do more for the families and communities we serve.

Lauren is now ECO’s Program Director, bringing her programs, her exceptional management skills, wit, and tenacity along with her. She brings 15 years of experience in nontraditional education and nine in environmental education. She graduated from the University of Oregon with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science and a Master of Science degree from Portland State University in Education, Leadership and Policy with an emphasis in Leadership for Sustainability Education and a certificate in Ecological Permaculture.


Dig-in Community, Becca Strohm

The Dig In Community’s programs started under SOLVE in 2003 before splitting off and becoming a separate nonprofit in 2016. It was formed by Steve Kennett, Nicole Poletto, Karen Goldberg, and Ember McCoy to focus specifically on opportunities for young people to get outside, connect with nature, learn field biology and ecology while restoring local streams and wetlands, or by “greening the schoolyard”.  When Steve decided to retire last year and proposed ECO continue their programs, we were enthusiastic - with Dig In’s strong emphasis on programs in grades sixth through twelfth, it was a natural fit.

Additionally, Dig In’s dedicated Field Coordinator, Becca Strohm joined our team to lead our secondary programs. She’s an ace! She expertly guides the students and manages 15 different habitats in and around Portland. She holds a Bachelor of Science from Juniata College in Environmental Science. Her passion for environmental education led her from the East Coast to Oregon with AmeriCorps and a position with SOLVE as part of their Green Team (Dig In’s predecessor). When her time was up, she headed back east to teach at outdoor schools in Rhode Island and South Carolina before moving back to Oregon to begin the Dig In Community.

What an Incredible Afternoon!

ECO helps us better understand the meaning of life and wonder.
— Bilquist Elementary 5th grader

Photography by Wasim Muklashy. Thank you Wasim.

This year’s Garden Party was our second-ever. Now, we are still new to throwing events but WOW (!!), amazing things happen when our community gathers.

We spent the afternoon engaging with the stories we share - those that shape and inspire us - especially through our personal and shared connections to nature. We heard a piece of ECO’s founding narrative through a letter written from Chugach to Teal - a story that preceded ECO and gave shape to its vision. Chugach is our very own co-founder, Bethany Thomas, and Teal is a former Outdoor School Supervisor and current Board Member. It was through Bethany’s experience with Outdoor School that galvanized a desire to teach, lead, and ultimately take up the work of bringing hands-on and field-based ecology to students.

Kelli Joy, a fifth-grade teacher, shared how ECO programs impact her and her students and told us why one of her students chose us for a class giving project: “I chose Ecology in Classrooms and Outdoors because I hope that I, others, and you can make Portland be the place to be...contact with nature is linked to better health, less stress, and also a better mood. No other product I know can have those amazing features.” Well said!

Our student’s voices were present through some of their Dear Nature letters:

Our guests shared their own Dear Nature letters with a mix of reflection, humor, longing, and inspiration — in words and drawings. Deaven Edmonson, a recent high school graduate and aspiring spoken word poet, crafted a piece to share with us titled, Mother Nature. We raised our glasses to Bethany — her 13 years of service and her move over to the Board of Directors. And, we raised our paddles in support of going Statewide!

It was an afternoon well spent.

We also surpassed our fundraising goals! It is difficult that so much of what we do is tied to the money it takes to do it. We are honored and humbled by every dollar invested in us. We will make every penny count in the effort to connect more students to nature for the long-term health of all our communities both social and ecological.

A giant thanks to all those who contributed to the success of our event — in-kind, in-cash, and in-time. Thank you Patrick Siver, our talented emcee and to David Cohen for providing the artwork that visually defined our event.

Thank you Kelli, Deaven, Dan and all who attended for sharing your stories.

Thank you ALL for being part of our story, our ECOsystem

If you missed the party, but still want to show your love for ECO, you can always make a contribution at ecologyoutdoors.org/donate.

A giant thanks to our sponsors:


Earth Month in a Nutshell

Earth Month 2018 flew past in a whirlwind of fun and energy! Our educators delivered 61 ecology lessons in classrooms about town and took students out on five field trips. We hosted our 2nd annual film screening, made new connections for our 3rd annual Earth Day Partner’s initiative, and participated for the 4th year in Lent School’s Earth Day Celebration. We’ve been enjoying all the activity!

McIver State Park, Milwaukie, 2017-18.jpeg

April brings milder weather, and along with it, a whole lotta field trips -- between now and the end of the school year, we’ll take 300 students out into nearby Oregon State Parks. And! Our kids will have BOGS rain boots for use in any spring showers, thanks to a recent Bogs’ 2% for Outdoor Education Grant.

On one recent adventure a student discovered a new-found fascination with snails, collecting five slimy friends to accompany him down the trail. When another student complimented his collection, he said, “I love them. These snails are 40% cool, 40% fun, and 20% gross!” Well said!

We have the world to live in on the condition that we will take good care of it. And to take good care of it, we have to know it. And to know it and to be willing to take care of it, we have to love it.
— Wendell Berry

At our film screening, Look & See, we took a look at the life and times of Wendell Berry. His kinship with the land and call to know it (and care for it) as part of ourselves gets at the core of why we believe our work here at ECO is necessary. We see first hand how our students come to love nature the more they know of her - even her slimy creatures!   

The screening brought together over 100 individuals from our community who also got a dose of the ECO experience through virtual reality thanks to Wasim Muklashy from Superswell VR.  

Take a peek at the ECO experience with or without a VR headset! >> Thanks Wasim!!

We served up tasty Brew Dr. Kombucha (thanks Brew Dr. for the supply!) and popcorn with a Jacobsen Salt bar (such a yummy treat!). We couldn’t’ve done it without these fine folks as well as Serenity Ibsen, PNCA and generous sponsorships from Corporate Sustainability Collaborative, Heritage Bank, and Tiedemann Wealth Management.

By the time Earth Day rolled around on April 22, we’d organized our third annual Earth Day Partners initiative with great success! Our ever-dedicated and ongoing partners, Moberi and Townshend’s Tea Company, were joined this year by The Timbers Team Store, The Float Shoppe, Glassybaby, and Bloom Garden Supply. Every one of these partners contributed a portion of their sales to ECO which raised over $2,500 to support hands-on ecology programming that will get kids connected to their natural world. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Did you know?

It’s still a couple years out - but - Earth Day turns 50 in 2020! This is definitely something worth celebrating!