The varied non-profits of the Adirondack Region are critical to successfully moving toward a better future. So we were pleased to have the opportunity to spend a day last week with the Adirondack Non-Profit Network (ANN), an informal network of leaders from organizations serving the Adirondacks that has been organized by the Adirondack Community Trust (ACT). Non-profits in the arts, community development, healthcare, environmental research and advocacy, social services, tourism (e.g., museums), education and others were represented. A major goal of the group is to foster more integrated, Park-wide planning and cooperation, which we endorse wholeheartedly.
The goal of the half-day workshop we organized for the group was to explore the ways in which the non-profit sector can contribute to progress toward the ADK Futures vision. The group prioritized these top areas:
- Adapting to climate change
- Developing support services to better enable mid-career families to move here
- Getting somewhere on the diversity issue
- Developing a vision and strategy for public education in the Adirondacks
- Making the Arts a growing economic sector
- Dealing with a growing number of poor in the Park
- Getting water quality efforts better organized, networked and coordinated
- Getting all the tourism NGOs to strategize together (outdoor oriented but also indoor)
- Continue the work of Main Street revitalization
The group thought most of this would be difficult, but some areas like getting the tourism NGOs to work together or developing a support system for mid-career families were seen as relatively easy. Large numbers of the non-profits represented could work on climate change, tourism and the Arts. There were fewer who would address water quality improvement, coping with a growing poor segment of our communities or addressing the lack of diversity in the region’s residents and visitors.
Some key ideas from the discussion were:
- Climate change is still an education issue
- In education, study the best schools in the Park and create a model of successful small schools
- Create a Park-Wide Arts organization – conceive of the Park as an arts center; this is a major hole in the Park’s non-profit infrastructure.
- Non-profits need to help a few key towns to revitalize that don’t have the local organizations and experienced people to pursue this. For example, adopt Port Henry.
Overall, the big theme was thinking Park-wide, collaborating, networking and making connections all the time.
As we read about the way that America’s changing demographics played such a big role in the recent elections, we are reminded of the shifting demographics of New York State and the potential problems it might present to the future of the Park. The people who live in the Park and the people who visit the Park are largely Caucasian. But the State of New York and America as a whole is heading toward a day when Caucasians will be less than half of its citizens. Already there are more non-white babies being born in the State than white.
During the Futures workshops, this issue was one that concerned a lot of people. With more and more people living and growing up in the big cities, fewer young people are being exposed to nature and even fewer to something like wilderness. We’ve seen people from the big city come to the mountains and be freaked out by the emptiness and quiet rather than rejuvenated by this natural environment.
The main concern is that the next generation of voters will not be as fully supportive of the Park and its costs to the tax payers. Also, that the ranks of the environmental movement will be depleted as the boomers pass away. You can see it with the big land owners in the region who are aging and whose next generation is far less interested in this place than their parents.
Like the Republican Party, we are likely to respond to these changes too little and too late. Responding means changing the way that we promote and brand the Park to make sure it is multicultural and diverse in its messages and images. More importantly, it means making an appreciation of nature and the environment an integral part of educating our youth throughout the State. The NYS Museum in Albany is a critical venue for educating future visitors and supporters of the Park. Tens of thousands of students come through it every year from all over the State. The museum is looking to redesign its badly outdated Adirondack displays and we are hoping to work with them to portray the truly amazing environmental achievement we have created in the Adirondack Park, and to make clear that it is something our next generation should be very proud of.
We spent Friday October 19th visiting Long Lake Central School and Indian Lake Central School.
We took the teachers at these schools through a sample of the ADK Futures materials and process with the idea of working them into the curriculum of middle school and high school students this year or next. We discussed various ways we might work with the schools to bring ADK Futures to students.
The new common core standards for schools emphasize learning through real-world problems that are relevant to the students’ lives rather than abstract or fictional problems or topics. Our work provides some great content that can be integrated across a number of subjects: science, math, civics, history, social studies, arts, physical education, etc. Going through a process like scenario planning would teach students to work in teams and allow them to become more engaged in the efforts to improve their communities and the region. But the greatest benefits, we feel, would come from students feeling more empowered to participate in the creation of their own future.
Students would need background information on many aspects of the Adirondack Park region prior to participating in some form of the process. We were pointed to the Adirondack Curriculum Project which already provides a great deal of relevant material, already organized into the lesson plans. As we work with a school, what we develop with them can be reused by other schools. Over time, we could have a pretty complete set of modules that any school in the region can use. Ultimately, we might have a youth planning summit in which students from multiple schools come to debate the best future for them as they grow up and the ways in which they can work to make that future happen.
We look forward to continuing these discussions with these two schools and others.