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Foundation earns Excellence in Interpretive Support award


A wood engraved award for Excellence in Interpretive Support
(Photo by Chad Merda)

The Nature Foundation of Will County received the Excellence in Interpretive Support award from the National Association for Interpretation’s Heartland Region at an award ceremony this spring. 


The award is given to individuals and organizations that have “shown recognition of the value of interpretation through exceptional and sustained support.” The Nature Foundation was nominated for the award by the Forest Preserve’s Visitor Services department, including Visitor Services Director Lydia Pond, facility supervisor Jessica Prince and program coordinator Suzy Lyttle. As part of the nomination, Pond, Prince and Lyttle each submitted letters of support outlining the many ways in which the Nature Foundation has supported Visitor Services initiatives through its 10 years of existence.  


“The generosity and impact of The Nature Foundation of Will County on our programs cannot be understated,” Pond wrote in her nomination letter. “From helping fund STEM/STEAM interpretive supplies for each of our visitor centers to covering the costs of traveling exhibits that bring first-time visitors through our doors — no idea has been turned down by The Nature Foundation.” 


The Nature Foundation Executive Director Tara Neff said receiving the award from NAI, which outlines interpretation standards that the Forest Preserve aims to achieve, makes it more meaningful. 


“I feel like this is the pinnacle of our 10th year of operation, being recognized for all the hard work and development that went into the organization,” Neff said. 


Receiving the award is also recognition of the Foundation’s partners to support the work of the Forest Preserve, Neff added. 


“Long term, it shows an investment of our partners into our mission, which is to protect nature, inspire discovery and connect people and nature,” she said. 


Projects financially supported by the Nature Foundation that were cited in the letters of support from Prince and Lyttle include “The Buzz” nature television program; visitor center exhibitions; the Willy’s Wilderness nature website for kids; a field trip bus scholarship program; and programming equipment and materials.  


“The ultimate impact of The Nature Foundation of Will County’s support cannot be measured in contacts, dollars or visitor count,” Prince wrote in her nomination letter. “It is the intangible impact of interpretive programs that services that would be unrealized without their support.” 


Neff said she is pleased to see recognition for The Nature Foundation’s efforts to support Forest Preserve staff’s work to add value to what they offer the public. She said one of the goals of the Foundation is to make more things accessible to more people.  


“It is an investment in what they are trying to achieve, and that always feels really good,” she said. “The Foundation’s support is a way for them to capitalize on unexpected opportunities and enhance their offerings or bring an idea into fruition.”  


Pond said those opportunities to enhance offerings and bring ideas to fruition allow Visitors Services to add more value to their offerings than they otherwise would.  


“What The Nature Foundation does for us is it allows us to think beyond our budget,” Pond said. “We can do great things without them, but they allow us to do even more.” 

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