By Cass Pastorelle, Program Director
I can’t help but feel grateful after our Hike-a-thon at Mount Tom this past Saturday, October 26.
Eagle Eye has been holding this event for 17 years, an idea first hatched by two volunteer instructors as a way to bring the Eagle Eye community together and raise money to support our work.
For most of Eagle Eye’s history, our work took place in the Boston area and at our forest site in the Berkshires. After many years of fruitful programs and partnerships, we closed our Somerville office at the end of 2015 and moved our operations west, where we have had our site since 1991. In making this move for organizational sustainability, it was necessary to transition out of partnerships that were very dear to us. While we are still connected to our friends and partners there (and still hold an annual Hike-a-thon in Eastern Mass), the programs and partnerships have moved west.
Four years ago, we weren’t sure who our new friends and partners would be. Thanks to our network of former staff, board members, and supporters, we started to make connections in the Pioneer Valley, including Holyoke, an urban center an hour from our forest site. We began offering programs on site for Holyoke youth from Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School in 2016 and reintroduced our residential summer internship program for college students in summer 2017. We also built relationships with faculty and staff at Hampshire College, co-founder Anthony Sanchez’s alma mater, and engaged their students in outdoor learning opportunities.
When we were connected to Kestrel Land Trust in 2017, our work started to expand. Kestrel had been working with students at Dean Tech (now Holyoke High School Dean Campus) for the past year. We joined them in offering opportunities for students to get outdoors, learn about the environment, play games, connect with each other, and have fun. At the end of the 2017-18 school year, we offered two overnight Learn More About Forests programs to Dean students. The results were inspiring. The power of nature and community were evident as students reflected on their experience of transformation, internal and external. Students and staff alike left with a transformed outlook on themselves, others, and nature.
We are now in our third year of working with Dean staff and students, and are offering not only overnight camping trips, but also an outdoor after-school program that is student-directed and prioritizes connection to and stewardship of natural areas around Holyoke. In the interim, we have connected with many other local organizations and led youth programs with the Holyoke Boys & Girls Club, Homework House, Holyoke High School North Campus, Paulo Freire, and LightHouse Holyoke.
At our Hike-a-thon at Mount Tom on Saturday, I got to see a visual representation of our partnership- and relationship-building over the past four years. Representatives from Holyoke High Dean Campus, Kestrel Land Trust, UMass Amherst, as well as long-time supporters, board members, friends, and former staff, impressed upon me the importance of community in fulfilling our mission. We have never been able to accomplish everything alone, and from early on we have recognized the value of leveraging partnerships and working together towards shared goals.
But the value of community is also intangible. It is the feeling of warmth and connection as people are gathered for a common purpose. It is the feeling of being seen and known by others and being part of something larger than ourselves. I felt that on Saturday and I feel it whenever we bring people together in nature.