The natural world is something that every person living in Wisconsin has a right to enjoy. Historically, however, the underprivileged and people of color have not had the same opportunities to access the outdoors when compared to more privileged communities. At the Natural Resources Foundation we are committed to diversity in conservation by doing our part to remove barriers so that every Wisconsinite has a chance to connect with nature. To this end, we are conducting several projects to make sure that our programs are as accessible and equitable as they can be to all the diverse people that call Wisconsin home.

Identifying gaps in diversity in conservation

For years we have worked to get grant funds to those that are most in need. Many of the outdoor education grants NRF gives out serve students in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program, and we have provided funding for many grassroots organizations that represent a wide range of populations in the state. Yet Caitlin Williamson, director of conservation programs, and others at NRF realized that the opportunity to apply for our grants may not be reaching many groups who could qualify for support.

“We recognize that there is a significant gap in opportunities for people from minority and underserved communities to connect, explore, and engage with Wisconsin’s natural world – and we hope to help address that gap as much as we can through our funding opportunities and programming,” Williamson said.

Furthering our reach

Deep-rooted social injustices take time and concerted effort to change. At NRF we are committed to increasing diversity in conservation, and we’re eager to expand our work to reach that goal.
To help us improve our outreach and to better serve communities under-represented in outdoor education and conservation, Williamson has planned a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training this fall with August Ball of Milwaukee-based Cream City Conservation Corps. This training will help inform diversity, equity and inclusion efforts at NRF and other local non-profits that will join us in this training session.

Summer outreach initiative

This summer, our work is being aided by interim Outreach Coordinator Matthew Wallrath. Wallrath has been advised by DEI experts Professor Randy Stoecker of UW-Madison’s Community and Environmental Sociology Department, and Madison journalist and photographer James Edward Mills. Both Randy and James have given presentations at NRF staff meetings to inspire staff and raise awareness about the importance of diversity inclusion in conservation work.

As part of a leadership project for his master of science in environmental conservation at the UW-Madison Nelson Institute, Wallrath has initiated an outreach and listening project to Madison community groups. His goal is to share information about NRF grant opportunities, and to find out how NRF can best serve as an effective ally to these organizations.
Wallrath is conducting in-person outreach to Common Wealth Development, the Ho-Chunk Youth Center, the Lussier Community Education Center, Centro Hispano, the Center for Resilient Cities, and the Bayview Foundation, with more organizations slated for the summer.

“Sharing our grant opportunities has already inspired groups that had no previous awareness of NRF funding options to apply for our summer giving cycle. Staff and leaders of community groups have been amazing to sit down with to gain critical perspectives,” Wallrath said. Advice and insights these community leaders share will be compiled in to a report to make NRF grants as meaningful and inclusive as possible, as well as adding new considerations for future partnerships.

This blog was contributed by Matthew Wallrath, Caitlin Williamson, and Nora Simmons