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Monday, August 10, 2020

ReWild Long Island Finds Creative, Covid-Safe Ways To Serve Its Community—Both Online And On The Ground


According to our June 2020 survey of Star rated nonprofits, 72% of organizations have suffered financially due to the pandemic. Additionally, 54% of respondents have cut back on program services due to the pandemic/economic shutdown. To overcome this disruption and to continue to serve communities, many nonprofits are adapting and innovating.

 

Today, we are honored to share a first-hand account of what innovation and adaptation
look like during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis
from ReWild Long Island*.


ReWild Long Island is a true self-starter organization. From its origins as a small community group in 2017, it has grown into a dedicated team of environmental activists and avid gardeners united around a shared mission: to protect and improve the biodiversity, resilience and health of regional ecosystems by adopting sustainable horticultural practices focused on native plants.

Since its inception, “ReWild” has transformed public spaces and residential gardens around its homebase of Port Washington, NY from chemical and resource-heavy lawns and gardens to ecologically rich, native plant-centered edens which support life up the food chain, providing habitat for local fauna, going easy on the water supply, and creating safe, chemical-free oases for humans and animals. 


And these projects are adding up to a sweeping change—a rewilding movement that’s beginning to spread; one that its members hope will counteract the damage done by widespread use of pesticides and fertilizers, which has created dead zones in the Long Island Sound and wreaked havoc on ecosystems everywhere. Today, ReWild’s reach extends into Canada, where far-flung eco-gardeners tune in for virtual composting workshops and more. 


Like other organizations, ReWild has had to make serious adjustments to cope with new realities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of its activities had been in-person and group oriented. Meetings were held at the local library, and volunteers carried out and guided rewilding projects. They also conducted affordable native plant sales, which—as a major source of revenue for the organization and the means for home rewilding projects to take shape—remain an essential function. All this had to be rethought.


No strangers to creative problem-solving, ReWild’s President, Raju Rajan, along with its board and members rolled up their sleeves and confronted the task of making each activity covid-safe. First, they realized that excellent organization and coordination would be critical. To this end, they migrated communication to “the cloud” and availed themselves of online time and task management software. This allowed everyone to keep track of what needed to be done and log volunteer hours. 


Plant sales were completely overhauled, with a shopping website where patrons could place orders, then retrieve plants in a drive-thru format with staggered arrival times. Members and volunteers fastidiously scheduled turns tending to ReWild’s native plant Showcase Garden at the local Thomas Dodge Farm Homestead. Many brought their own tools, and sanitizer was provided at the garden. Meetings moved online, and virtual workshops were expanded so that everyone could tune in from the safety of home.


One of the most impressive and timely programs was launched this summer in partnership with the Growing Love Community Garden and Plant A Row for the Hungry. The Summer Program to Fight Hunger and Climate Change is a hands-on program designed to teach high school students how to grow food and work with native plants, while instilling concepts in ecology and biodiversity. Student interns also practice composting, Bokashi and recycling, meeting in small groups at staggered times and diligently using protective gear. To date, they’ve harvested over 700 pounds of fresh produce, which they donated to a local food pantry—meeting an especially urgent need as food insecurity spikes across the nation. 


The ingredients to ReWild’s success in navigating the pandemic have been several: excellent coordination and management—of people, tasks and time; willingness to try new things, like the online tools keeping everyone connected and up-to-date; and lastly, the perseverance and dedication necessary to say: “we’ll find a way to make it work,” all while putting safety front and center. These elements have been the glue holding everything together as this growing organization has gracefully met the challenges of our time. 


Written by Elizabeth Skolnick, a freelance journalist, nonprofit advisor and environmental researcher based in NYC.


*As a young nonprofit, ReWild Long Island does not yet qualify to be Star or Encompass rated by Charity Navigator. However, we aim to help make the nonprofit sector more vibrant and inclusive by sharing stories from impactful organizations.

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