Innovative partnership teaches science by gardening for wildlife.
The Links’ National President Kimberly Jeffries Leonard inspects her group’s first NWF Certified Wildlife Habitat® garden with fourth grade students in Jamaica.
KNOWING WE LIVE IN A WORLD where diversity matters—in ecosystems and organizations—the National Wildlife Federation is honored by its growing partnership with The Links, Incorporated (The Links), an international group dedicated to promoting career opportunities, public service and STEM education for African American communities and youth of color.
Founded in 1946, The Links has some 16,000 members in 292 chapters, making it one of the oldest, largest service organizations dedicated to supporting African American culture and communities. Its partnership with NWF took root in 2018, when The Links became actively involved in NWF’s Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, installing native plants to benefit pollinators, especially in Texas.
The partnership grew further in 2019, nurtured by visionary leaders such as The Links’ National President Kimberly Jeffries Leonard, its National STEM Chair Leslye Miller Fraser, noted conservationist Mamie Parker (a member of The Links and an NWF board member) and former NWF board member Dianne Dillon-Ridgley. Through their collaboration, The Links broadened its National LINKS-STEMREADY Signature Program by incorporating NWF’s Garden for Wildlife™ resources, helping youth in disadvantaged areas create wildlife-friendly habitats at schools, shelters and elsewhere, including installing NWF Certified Wildlife Habitats at two elementary schools in Jamaica.
In 2020, despite the pandemic, the partnership between The Links and NWF hit full bloom, with some 2,000 Links members pledging to become NWF Butterfly Heroes™. At a virtual seminar in June titled “Links Go WildSTEM Green,” the two groups celebrated their growing partnership, and in July, The Links’ national headquarters in Washington, D.C., became NWF’s 250,000th Certified Wildlife Habitat®, a notable milestone.
The WildSTEM program, says Parker, will “increase STEM skills and career interest” among youth of color. Growing wildlife gardens can help students learn about ecology, soil conservation, the health benefits of nature, environmental justice and other issues, preparing youth for millions of jobs in conservation—and helping them feel welcome in that space.
“We are making sure that disadvantaged youth are exposed to STEM professionals who look like them,” says Fraser. “Our children’s future depends on them being STEM literate.” Adds Garden for Wildlife Head Mary Phillips, “The Links’ members are effective change makers”—a gift to all who care about conservation.
Teresa Speight is a Maryland-based gardening writer and podcaster.
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