Remembering The Early Years

From NNC’s President

I often wonder in amazement at how far we have come since NNC was first founded, and in even greater amazement at how it somehow miraculously all happened as we had envisioned.

The year NNC was founded, dad was 93. I had just begun to work with him and his existing nonprofit, Nurture Nature Foundation (“NNF”), the year before, right around the time when NNF’s condominium project in Easton inauspiciously flooded. I was with him, in fact, when he heard the news, on the very day the units went on sale. The story of how that event led him to envision a center devoted to flooding and related environmental issues is told on another page. What I want to recount here are some of my recollections of how his vision became a reality.

My father officially announced his plan to address the issue of flooding in July of 2007. NNF, he said, would be establishing what he provisionally called a “Flood Museum and Resource Center,” to be housed in a large historic, but then vacant building in Easton. The Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was intrigued and attended the press conference. The project, he said “offered an opportunity to look at flooding from a different perspective than the emergency management aftermath the state has traditionally focused on. It’s trying to step up a couple notches and tries to look down on it from a higher plain. “ The reuse of an existing building also “leads by example” he continued, to show how to develop without compounding flooding problems.

To run the Center, and lead the work on outreach, NNF hired that year its first local staff, including our gifted Executive Director, Rachel Hogan Carr, and helped create a sister nonprofit, named the Nurture Nature Center, Inc.

The following year, dad signed a construction contract for over a half million dollars to ready the 30,000 square foot building for use as the Nurture Nature Center. The goal was to create space in the building for flood education, as well as a lively mix of complementary uses that would attract a diverse cross section of people throughout the year. By 2009, the construction work was far enough along to allow staff to move in and set up office.

Shortly afterwards, through tremendous fortune, the extraordinary news arrived that National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had awarded us nearly $250,000 to conduct a flood awareness and education campaign in the four states along the Delaware River Basin. Amazingly, the same year, the National Science Foundation awarded us a grant to host forums about the science of flooding and mitigation strategies among people living in the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, a project dubbed “From Risk to Resiliency.”

The flood education project was on its way!

Flood-work

The extensive work undertaken with these seminal grants is described elsewhere. The materials that grew out of that work became in the following years a national resource, used by communities across the country that wanted to educate their citizens about flooding. The work also set the stage for the social science research on flood and risk communication that NNC conducted in later years, which has won the Center multiple awards, as well as a reputation for effective flood communication methods nationwide.

Although this initial work provided the foundation for a large part of what NNC does today, it did not make significant use of the historic building that NNC occupied. That happened next.

In late 2010, we learned that NOAA had approved a grant for NNC to purchase and install Science on a Sphere®, which was to become the central exhibit in the building. The Sphere and a number of accompanying exhibits for the Sphere Room were installed, and a little less than a year later, on September 13, 2011, the Nurture Nature Center opened to the public. Its first show was a program about climate and flooding that was developed by NNC specifically for the Sphere, to be shown both at NNC and at other Science on a Sphere locations across the world. In addition, NNC offered a Best of the Sphere program that year. The shows were delivered by a team of part-time docents who included retired science teachers as well as NNC staff and other environmental educators, who had been trained on topics including NNC history and mission; climate science; presentation and program delivery; and specific program content.

Following our opening to the public in 2011, NNC experienced tremendous growth as a resource for the surrounding community. In the first year alone, several thousand visitors came for science, art and dialogue programming, as well as for community events and rentals. That year, we added a third program to our Sphere offerings and began offering other types of programs to public and private school groups, homeschool groups, scouting and daycare groups, as well as professional adult organizations. By 2013, the number of visitors who came to NNC for special programming had increased to more than four thousand, and an estimated 10,000 guests had come into the building during NNC’s open house hours. Each year since then the number of people coming through the Center has gone up and the types of programs we offer have expanded.  A visit to any of the pages under our programming tab will give a taste of our many offerings.

Back when my father first envisaged using NNC as a flood resource center, NNF had engaged a group called “Project for Public Spaces” to study the complementary uses that could be made of the building, that would ensure it was a lively center of community involvement that people loved to come to, rather than an uninviting institution that nobody visited. Today, NNC can proudly say that it has achieved that goal. The Center has become everything that was hoped for and more.

Jane Kheel Stanley