Deb Jensen is director of education at the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy.

Monday, 8 Nov 1999

CATALINA ISLAND, Calif.

Waking up to the sound and smell of rain this morning was, well … refreshing. It has been months since any precipitation has fallen as rain here. Conversations have been punctuated by fears about drought, global warming, and post-El Niño weather patterns. This rain won’t mean much in terms of measurable water in reservoirs, but parched, dust-covered plants will benefit.

Collecting riparian plant specimens and soil samples is my first official duty of the day. Living at Middle Ranch near the largest fresh water drainage on the island means I can walk to the collecting site. Walking in the mist gives me time to appreciate the miracle of fresh water on this arid island off Southern California surrounded by the salty sea.

We are training volunteers to become environmental educators in the local schools. Today is the day that they will participate in three lessons we have written specifically for Catalina. The outreach program, Catalina ISLAND (Investigations Stimulating Learning About Natural Diversity), tackles major themes and issues relating to the local and global environments. The diversity lesson, “Planet of Plenty,” involves observation and investigation of plants found in different natural communities on the island. The goal is to prepare our eager volunteers to facilitate classroom and field experiences.

Our education department has three employees and a long-range plan that literally calls for reaching millions. Catalina has only 3,500 permanent human residents, but nearly 1 million people visit the island every year. The Santa Catalina Island Conservancy owns 88 percent of the island and is responsible for protection of its natural resources. An equally important part of our mission allows for educational and recreational use of the island. Our calendar reflects the breadth of local and visitor education programs we undertake, as well as our philosophical campaign to raise the ecological literacy of as many people as we can.

After the volunteer training, Karen, Jeff, and I debrief. Did we communicate effectively? Did the volunteers get what they needed? Next week, we go into the field with the group. After 20 hours of training, will they be ready, confident, and prepared to motivate learning? Volunteers inspire me. In a nonprofit organization, they are the opposable thumb that makes progress possible.