beach and ocean
This week’s Friday Focus organization invites people to take a break from the hectic buzz of the technological world and escape to the natural landscape of Calvert County. Working with the local Division of Natural Resources, The Calvert Nature Society (previously known as the Battle Creek Nature Education Society) provides opportunities for appreciation and understanding of the natural world through various outreach initiatives. We caught up with Anne Sundermann, the Society’s Executive Director for this week’s interview.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: Battle Creek Nature Education Society was formed in the late 1980s to support the Calvert County nature parks: Battle Creek Cypress Swamp, Flag Ponds Nature Park, Kings Landing Park, Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm and other natural areas in the county. The Society works in partnership with the County’s Division of Natural Resources to offer nature programs to residents and park visitors. We also support the preservation of the Calvert County’s natural heritage, work to protect lands in the county, highlight the importance of our natural resources, and promote environmentally aware and literate communities.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: The Society has a long tradition of supporting the county in its effort to improve and expand the nature parks in the County. Right now, Calvert County has provided the Society with a grant to rebuild the Fisherman’s Shanty at Flag Ponds. The Flag Ponds fisherman’s shanty is a reminder of the thriving commercial fisheries that were a main component of the economies of our bayside towns. The shanties were in use from the early 1900s until the mid to late 1950s.

The Flag Ponds shanty was destroyed in an act of arson during Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. So many people in Calvert responded to our plea for donations of both financial support and for period items to refurnish the shanty. Work will start soon on the new building and we are very excited to be able to have such a large part in bringing this piece of Calvert history back to life.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Time. Our hectic schedules leave little room for downtime and often a walk in the woods gets put on the back burner in the rush to complete errands or catch up on chores. And there are so many distractions, with the constant interruptions from electronic media. As people spend more time online, they can become disconnected from the “IRL” (in real life) opportunities around them. BCNES/Calvert Nature Society strives to re-connect individuals to the natural world. We already provide programs for pre-school to adult, but we want to provide more programming that will catch the interest of middle and high schoolers.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We have a full calendar of fall and winter events, including our volunteer events. We have a lot of fun events scheduled for late October/early November. The Nature Photography Mini Camp connects art and nature on October 27. Our Barn Owl Workday is scheduled for Friday, November 7. Calvert Stewards are planting holly trees at the Cypress Swamp on November 1. And there is a dog walk at our newest park, Biscoe Gray Heritage Farm, also on November 1. Most events are free for Society members. See the full calendar at www.calvertparks.org/calendar.html.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: Assisting at the Calvert County nature parks is a rewarding way to raise awareness of the importance of our natural lands. Natural Resources staff develops programs that present a continuing stream of environmental action activities at the county nature parks for children, families, and adults.

Our volunteers teach school children the ChesPax curriculum, they plant trees and butterfly gardens, they walk the trails, help monitor wildlife, and in general, provide stewardship for our nature parks. Our Junior Ranger Corps engages youth, ages 12-16 in park projects and teaches outdoor and leadership skills. Calvert Stewards tackles trail maintenance and other park projects.

Our volunteers come from all walks of life and have many different interests, but all use their experience to help preserve the natural heritage of Calvert County. Volunteer opportunities are listed at www.calvertparks.org/volunteer.html

point lookout house
Photo credit: Lisa Kane

At the southernmost tip of St. Mary’s County is the Point Lookout Lighthouse, a historical landmark that has stood since 1830. Today, the preservation and maintenance of the lighthouse is managed in part by the Point Lookout Lighthouse Preservation Society, Inc., a nonprofit foundation started in 2006. As the organization prepares to host its annual “Feel the History 5k” race this weekend, we spoke with Chuck Kohls, Treasurer and Volunteer Coordinator for the Society.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: We were founded to assist in the preservation of the Point Lookout Lighthouse when it was transferred from United States Navy ownership to the state of Maryland. Unfortunately, the state park did not have funding to maintain, let alone restore, the historic structure in Point Lookout State Part at the confluence of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay in St. Mary's County.

We hold open houses so visitors can see and learn about this landmark. We also give special tours to groups of interested persons. In addition, we hold 'preservation workdays' when our volunteers meet to do a variety of tasks such as cleaning the house, painting, yard maintenance and repairs needed to prevent further deterioration. We also hold fundraising events and have a small gift shop open during open houses to raise funds for the restoration of the lighthouse. Since the lighthouse is considered haunted by many authorities on the subject we also hold 'Paranormal Investigation' nights, where individuals and groups have several hours of nighttime access to conduct their own investigations. These are very popular and have proven to be a good fundraiser.

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: It sounds so simple but we were able to raise the necessary funds to purchase and install a new flagpole to replace the 50 plus year old wooden pole that was rotting and becoming unsafe. Just seeing the flags fly when we are open brings a big smile to my face.

But, I think our most rewarding moments are when we talk with of visitors and provide them with an understanding of the history and importance of this gem.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: Because the lighthouse is state owned we are limited in what we can do with the structure beyond emergency repairs and maintenance until the Maryland Park Service finalizes their plans and the General Assembly provides funding to accomplish the restoration. If we had to go it alone, it would be many years before we could tackle the myriad repairs that are necessary to turn it into a proper museum for all to enjoy. Some such repairs would be a total rewire and replumb of the house and installation of a modern HVAC system.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: Open House from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on November 1.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization?

A: Send an e-mail to volunteer@pllps.org or visit us during an open house and talk to me. We can use all types of volunteers of all ages. Currently, we have two elementary/middle school aged volunteers who come with their grandmother and great aunt. We also have two octogenarians who are regulars.

Community Bank of the Chesapeake is proud to support the Point Lookout Lighthouse Preservation Society as a sponsor of their 4th annual “Feel the History 5k” race this Saturday, October 11. Registration for this event is still available online at http://www.feelthehistory5k.com/Register.html. Participants may also sign up at the event.

american red cross
This week’s Friday Focus organization is part of the world’s largest volunteer network. Active in 187 countries worldwide, the Red Cross plays a fundamental role in the lives of many millions of people. We spoke with Jonathan McNamara, Regional Director of Donor and Media Relations and spokesman for the local Virginia chapter of the organization, about the important role the Red Cross plays locally, nationally and globally.

Q: Tell us about your organization (who you serve, what you do, etc.)

A: The American Red Cross exists to provide compassionate care to those in need. Our network of generous donors, volunteers and employees shares a mission of preventing and relieving suffering, here at home and around the world, through five key service areas:

Disaster Relief: The Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the United States every year, ranging from home fires that affect a single family to hurricanes that affect tens of thousands, to earthquakes that impact millions. In these events, the Red Cross provides shelter, food, health and mental health services to help families and entire communities get back on their feet. Although the Red Cross is not a government agency, it is an essential part of the response when disaster strikes. We work in partnership with other agencies and organizations that provide services to disaster victims.

Supporting America’s Military Families: The Red Cross helps military members, veterans and their families prepare for, cope with and respond to the challenges of military service. Emergency communications, training, support to wounded warriors and veterans, and access to community resources help an average of 150,000 military families and veterans annually.

Live-saving Blood: Your donations of blood are what make the American Red Cross the largest single supplier of blood and blood products in the U.S. Each year, nearly 4 million people donate blood through the Red Cross, helping to provide more than 40% of America’s blood supply.

Health and Safety Services: The Red Cross is the nation’s leading provider of health and safety courses, such as CPR, First Aid and Lifeguard training. Each year, more than 9 million Americans participate in our training programs, including first responders, educators, babysitters and people who want to be prepared to help others in an emergency.

International Services: The American Red Cross is part of the world’s largest humanitarian network with 13 million volunteers in 187 countries. Working together, we help respond to disasters, build safer communities, and teach the rules of war. Each year, we reach an average of more than 100 million people across the globe. 

Q: What is your favorite “moment” (example of how your organization helped)?

A: Every moment where we help a family is special. From supporting families who have lost everything after a home fire at 3:00 a.m., to reuniting a loved ones separated by armed conflict, our volunteers and staff work tirelessly to alleviate human suffering.

Q: What is your biggest challenge?

A: We continue to have to adapt to the challenges our communities face. This is why we work so hard to recruit and train volunteers to support our mission. We also work with a variety of partners to communicate our vision and work to bring people together to build more prepared and resilient communities.

Q: Are there any upcoming events?

A: We are participating in a variety of community events across our area. For more information about upcoming events, or to have the Red Cross at your next function, visit http://www.redcross.org/va/fredericksburg or call 757-446-7700. You can also follow the Red Cross on Twitter @RCCoastalVA or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/redcrossSEVA.

Q: How can people get involved with your organization? 

A: Each year, over one million Americans serve as Red Cross volunteers providing local community needs, such as:

  • Helping people in emergencies and disaster response
  • Teaching people how to prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies
  • Teaching first aid and CPR, swimming and other health and safety skills
  • Delivering emergency messages to members of the military
  • Reconnecting families separated around the world through international tracking services, etc.
  • Organizing youth programs

Red Cross volunteers work directly with people, serve on boards of directors, serve as managers, advisors, and provide behind the scenes support. Be a Red Cross volunteer!

Helping others feels good, and helps you feel good about yourself. Your local Red Cross can work with you to provide rewarding experiences, opportunities to utilize your talents, or provide training to help you serve your community.

To join our team visit: http://www.redcross.org/va/fredericksburg/volunteer