Vida Verde: Molding the Next Generation of Environmental Stewards

Vida Verde Nature Education, located in San Gregorio, CA, promotes educational equity by providing free, overnight environmental learning experiences for students who don’t otherwise get the opportunity. Since its inception in 2001, Vida Verde has served over 9,500 Bay Area students plus their teachers.

As a 2014 Satterberg Open Grant recipient, Vida Verde set out to do the following:

  • Further their mission by providing vital, enriching environmental education experiences to at least 750 low-income urban Bay Area students every year.
  • Develop and implement a new Pre- and Post-Program Curriculum in order to deepen and extend the impacts of the program.
  • Maintain exceptional program quality as they execute a momentous capital campaign to purchase and fully develop their home site.

Throughout 2015, program quality was at an all-time high, with nearly all participating students showing marked improvement in science test scores, teamwork and self-confidence, overall school experiences, and awareness and interest in environmental issues. In addition, Vida Verde met its goal of creating a post-program curriculum for use in the classroom. Named “Vida Verde Classroom Connections,” this eight-lesson program is designed around Next Generation Science Standards, relevance to students’ lives, and flexibility for teachers. Vida Verde plans to continually refine the program based on student and teacher feedback.

A seemingly inherent challenge for nonprofits is balancing existing programs and donors while constantly cultivating new funders and expanding or improving services. To keep these balls in the air, Vida Verde hired a Campaign Manager and additional capital campaign staff, and increased the responsibilities of the Head of Program.

Because he had not previously worked at Vida Verde, he stepped into a major leadership role with little context for the day­to­day details of the program. Initially, they had concerns about hiring an “outside” person into the Head of Program role, because their program is specialized and tightly run, and because of the time and energy required to train someone new. However, Vida Verde learned a great deal about its capacity to train a strong leader into this critical role, and that the input of time and energy was not only worth it, but essential to the success of the endeavor. Now, the Head of Program represents one of their greatest strengths. He has received the highest ratings possible from teachers on post­program evaluations every single week, is respected and valued by the four staff members under his supervision, and is an integral member of the Vida Verde leadership.

While the stresses of managing staff and infrastructure aren’t always necessarily the headline­ grabbers in nonprofit work, Vida Verde has clearly demonstrated that hiring and developing good people are of immense importance in delivering quality programs. We commend them on what they’ve achieved so far, and eagerly await the leadership of their new wave of environmentalists!

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