You probably know that Columbus Audubon shows up at many events around Central Ohio. We work hard to educate and inspire people for conservation!

But what’s it like to get out there in the community? How do we prepare? (Hint: there’s a lot of work that no one sees.) How about dealing with social media? How do we know that “people” online are even real — not scammers, “bots” or trolls?

For a peek at the life of our dedicated volunteers, we asked Sheila Fagan, Columbus Audubon’s Community Outreach Coordinator, to tell us what she does for Columbus Audubon. We knew it was a lot, but the breadth of our outreach efforts amazed even a lot of us within the organization. Even in the midst of the pandemic, she has been tireless in her efforts to make CA matter to all members of our community. Thank you, Sheila!

Now let’s turn it over to Sheila to tell you more.

Communication: First, there’s ongoing handling of Columbus Audubon correspondence, which often requires multiple emails, texts and phone calls as well as a significant dose of creativity to unravel and respond to the myriad inquiries. The correspondence runs the gamut from “When may I begin feeding birds in my backyard again?” to trying to track down the address of long ago Columbus resident and birding luminary, Margaret Morse Nice, so that a visiting author could bird with her young son for descendent Song Sparrows in the same area. (I found it and gained an ally in conservation). I relish this work as it keeps me in touch with the general public and promotes goodwill on behalf of Columbus Audubon by answering questions about birds for the public that Google often cannot provide and offers ample opportunities to educate the inquirers by providing accurate information about the nature of and needs of birds and wildlife. My mentors, Bill Heck and Tom Sheley often provide support with this work. Bill helps me to ferret out scams and posts legitimate events and pictures to our website and Tom helps me with questions related to the history of our organization as well as technical bird questions that are beyond my ken.

Social Media: Similarly, I provide a voice on social media promoting the planting of native plants and offer alternatives to killing every caterpillar and insect people find in their yards with insecticide; explaining that those are naturally occurring and provide food for nestling birds and other wildlife. My posts are often accompanied by my photographs and are usually well received and shared.

I promoted and assisted in leading a bird walk at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center (GIAC) that Columbus Audubon board member, Nicole Jackson, designed and organized for Black Birders Week in June. It was a celebration of sending the message that birding is for everyone and that as an organization we welcome Black people and other People of Color to our organization. Congratulations to Ms. Jackson for providing the leadership and organization for this important event.

New CA Events: I promoted the “Let’s Go Birding Together” event series and secured the yoga teacher and have led the bird walk portion of the programs that began in June for PRIDE week and have continued through the summer from 5:30-7:30 on the “First Fridays” of each month at GIAC. These programs are designed specifically to give the LBGTQIA community and allies an accepting, indeed welcoming and safe place to do yoga (the deck of GIAC provides the best view of downtown Columbus) and explore birding. I have worked in partnership with Allison Clark of GIAC, the Director of Community Outreach at the GIAC. Following the one hour yoga practice, we provide binoculars and instruction in their use for our participants in the next hour while pointing out and identifying the many resident and migratory birds along the paths around the center. We are taking a break in October and, with the support of the director of GIAC, will resume the programs in November through 2022 with a slight adjustment in time due to the change of season. This is a National Audubon initiated program promoted to coincide with PRIDE week in June that Columbus Audubon and GIAC have developed beyond PRIDE month, demonstrating an ongoing commitment with the support of the area LBGTQIA community. Special thanks to Wild Birds Unlimited and owner Chris Sheley for permitting me to place flyers for the series in his store.

Columbus Audubon Banner
A Columbus Audubon banner at the 10TV Outdoor Adventure event.

Community Events: I participated in the 10TV Outdoor Adventure event held at Highbanks Metro Park on July 10th.  It was an outstanding, truly ideal opportunity to connect with thousands of children and their families, a highly diverse population with many people of color as there were eight thousand people in attendance! They came from the city, suburbs and rural areas of Ohio and I also met folks from out of state visiting with their families. As has been the case in past years (this is our third year participating) my focus was on promoting native plants. In addition this year I distributed seeds from Royal Catch Fly plants from my own garden to thousands of families along with literature from National Audubon, Columbus Audubon and GIAC promoting conservation, our treasured birds, native pollinators and wildlife.

I represented Columbus Audubon at Riverfest in Delaware Ohio. It was an all-day outdoor festival where I offered a message of conservation to children and their families. I bring people to the GIAC center and Columbus Audubon programs with my presence at these outdoor festival events. I enjoy speaking with the public one-on-one, often helping them to identify the birds visiting their own backyards. I believe it is this direct contact with the public that is so effective in making bird and wildlife friendly habitats one backyard at a time.

Partner Organizations: At the request of Columbus Audubon president, Jim Palus, and Vice President, Allison Boehler, I spoke on behalf of Columbus Audubon by providing an interview for Cindi Jacobson for the leadership of the Ohio Division of Wildlife study that examined what Ohio organizations are doing to provide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion opportunities for their members and the general public.

Closeup of Columbus Audubon Table Display
A Columbus Audubon display table at an event.

I have also been invited by Tisa Watts to present my class on “Native Plants for Pollinators” to her Columbus Garden School audience. I did it two years ago and it reached full enrollment. I am in the process of looking at dates to schedule it, likely next summer.

I recently attended a meeting at the Linden Branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library for the Ohio Climate Justice Fund. I found and connected with two active groups working diligently for environmental justice. One of the groups is comprised of young adults, Sunrise Columbus, and the other is spearheading action directed toward the Yenken Majestic Paint Company, a notorious polluter for decades that recently (a few months ago) had an explosion (one worker died and several were injured) that damaged homes in the area and the company has not yet stepped up to repair the damage. Further they only agreed to meet and discuss the matter with Asmara Williams, head of the North Central Area Commission, three months after the incident and insisted that the media not be present. One of the most disturbing aspects of this explosion is that, to date, the company has no workable plan for protecting or warning the community of further danger (ie: should there be another explosion there is no system for warning and instructing the neighbors about how to protect themselves from the toxic emissions that may result!)  I see my role as Community Outreach Coordinator for Columbus Audubon as an ally in this fight for environmental justice. Fundamental to our work is the basic truth that what is good for birds is good for people: clean air, water and land. I will continue to update our leadership and membership as this work continues.

Columbus Audubon Table Display Closeup
Some “takeaways” to help educate visitors.

You can contact Sheila through the Columbus Audubon Contact Us page. Be sure to choose “Education/Outreach” as the topic areas.