When Randy and Iris Senzig and their friend, Ross Andrews, sat at the small kitchen table many an evening, they had long discussions about the needs for children to re-connect to the earth and bring people in communities together. Unknowingly, they were planting the seeds for Center for Human-Earth Restoration. There was hope that the plans for change would blossom and grow like a strong oak tree to be a pillar of education and nature awareness for young people. Four years later, it has been growing and cultivating into a tough little oak tree.
Center for Human-Earth Restoration (C.H.E.R.) is a 501c(3) a non-profit that works with schools, camps and other groups in Wake County communities to expand curiosity, education with place-based, hands on outdoor experiences. Nature based education creates a comfort zone for amazement in the natural world, but it also can create an improved performance in STEM based classes. A day of learning outside is so different for our young participants that just being in the woods or on the grass makes them excited to learn. Additionally, being present in nature has internal perks as well including physiological, social and physical health.
In this fast paced world of instant gratification and increasing consumption, we are seeing in many children and adults, a dependence on technology and social media, which in turn, can create a lack of interest in real tangible experiences and human connections. It is becoming common knowledge that more and more children are having trouble with social anxiety, attention disorders, and obesity and strong evidence points to the reliance on technology. Richard Louv, a prominent author and journalist says, “The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”
Through C.H.E.R. programs, we hear from participants that they don’t even think about their phones when they are engaged with the activity. Activities consist of many things like nature games, local tree identification and measuring, soil testing, compass orienteering, and journaling. Also, engaging speakers come from places like Department of Natural Resources, or members from Wake Audubon. Observational skills and scientific method steps are taught and practiced.
CORES was a break through program in Fuquay-Varina in 2011, where Randy Senzig was an environmental science teacher at Fuquay-Varina High School for 22 years. CORES stands for Character Education through Observation, Reflection, Ecological Restoration and Scientific Literacy. CORES was started at FV Middle School with 8th grade classes. This program engages students in outdoor science experiments and literacy activities. Experiments deal with stream water quality, macro-invertebrates inventories and soil testing. CORES is a comprehensive, field-based approach to developing scientific and ecological literacy in students from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Beth Selig, a long standing teacher at Fuquay-Varina Middle school, has been a big supporter of the CORES program. She has coordinated with other teachers the day long excursion out to Carol Howard Johnson Environmental Education Park on Wagstaff Road of entire grades at the school. It’s a masterpiece of order and distribution to bring 270 8th graders to a CORES day at the park, but everyone involved does a fantastic job. This is what Beth has had to say about the program last year, “Randy and the CORES program have been a valuable asset to the department at Fuquay-Varina Middle School. My students have benefited from the experiences of the outdoors…..Randy has truly sparked interest and excitement in outdoor education from my students. This interest has carried over into the classroom and enhanced discussions and conversations.” C.H.E.R. has already scheduled four nature expeditions and campus programs for the current school year at FV middle school for 6th and 8th graders. This will be approximately total of 515 children going on five expeditions each. Whoa….let the games begin!
In Fuquay-Varina, CORES also includes collaboration with Lincoln Heights Elementary School. In 2013, on the school campus, Randy set up a collection of blue bird boxes donated by Wake Blue bird society. At Lincoln Heights, Randy has given 3rd and 4th grade presentations on blue birds in North Carolina. On school walkabouts, the children get to see baby birds at different stages being raised in the blue bird boxes. The principal and teachers are currently in planning with C.H.E.R. on the CORES program to meet with every grade this year on an expedition. The CORES program relies on public school support and the generous support of our community to carry out our mission with local schools.
CORES is not the only program currently in process with C.H.E.R. In August of 2014, Neighborhood Ecology Corps (NEC) was born and has become a unique and powerful program in southeast Raleigh. NEC is a collaborative undertaking sponsored by the City of Raleigh Parks, NCSU College of Natural Resources, the NC State Division of Parks and Recreation and the National Parks Service under the skilled leadership of the Center for Human-Earth Restoration. NEC Program is designed to allow student involvement in assessing the needs and resources of their community from a cultural, ecological, health and livability viewpoint. Through the hand in hand partnership of NCSU College of Natural Resources, the children go on multiple expeditions to beautiful places, such as State and National parks, local infrastructure visits such as police and fire department excursions. But, during the school year, the children get to see what it is like to be a student at NCSU. Trips were made to the famous Hunt Library, laboratory visits, and a cool, crisp, day autumn day at the NC Veterinary School. It is the support of the university in hopes that the children will be inspired to go to NCSU and study natural resources. NEC is beginning it’s second year with new programs.
Some of the statements we hear from the parents by the middle of the year long program are promising. Here are a few things we have heard. ” Tiana loves this program. Whenever we are out, she will say, “Mom, that is a ___ type of tree; you can tell by the leaves.” “Lyric came home talking about how much she enjoyed the trip to NC State. She stated she had no idea those type of majors existed and they actually fell under engineer. She want to visit the library again and bring her siblings.”
C.H.E.R. has special partners that have made possible all the work we do with the Neighborhood Ecology Corp. Without the diverse groups of students that participate in the program and the partners’ involvement, C.H.E.R. would not be able to carry out NEC. The partners include Triangle Land Conservancy, North Carolina State University, NC State Parks, City of Raleigh parks and recreation, Partners for Environmental Justice, Conservation Trust of North Carolina, and the National Park Service. They provide in service help or monetary funds that are vital to the success of Neighborhood Ecology Corps.
The current C.H.E.R. team consists of Randy Senzig, President and Executive Director, Iris Senzig, his wife, as the Chief Operating Officer, Melissa Yslas, Program Instructor and grant writer, Karrah Mauro, Program Instructor and Webmaster. This team is guided by a visionary board of directors committed to the mission of C.H.E.R. The mission that guides our every facet of work is to bring the earth into the hearts of all. The hub of C.H.E.R. is still the small kitchen table, where ideas, humor, and reflections of the exciting educational ventures are shared. C.H.E.R. is hoping to expand to other schools in Fuquay-Varina and take on new programs to include adult programs as well. Check out our website http://www.centerforhuman-earthrestoration.com/#/ Tweet us on Twitter or like us on facebook!