Stories from the Field

Donor Spotlight: Joy Walters

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Program chaperones in Yosemite

Joy Walters’ connection to NatureBridge began as a chaperone in 1999. As a middle and high school science teacher at La Cañada High School in La Cañada Flintridge, California, Joy had the opportunity to accompany a group of 9th and 10th graders to Yosemite National Park on a NatureBridge (then Yosemite Institute) trip organized by Patty Compeau.

She immediately saw the impact that the program had on students and it wasn’t long before Joy was organizing trips herself. Warren Weaver, Todd Kissel and Don Schaasma had begun to make trips available to the 7th and 8th grade level where Joy would end up serving as a NatureBridge chaperone and organizer for over a decade.

To invite students to a wild area that’s very purpose is to conserve, to entice and to excite visitors about wildlife is one of the reasons I want to connect students to nature. Their curiosity allows for an avenue of science learning. When you’re in nature, the questions come naturally.

Even once back in the classroom, Joy continued to use the national parks as a way to teach earth science because of the intimate way she witnessed students connecting with nature through their favorite outdoor spaces. She recalls a teaching moment about a national park in Samoa, encouraged by a student and his class to learn more about the birthplace of his parents through the park.

For Joy, the biggest takeaway over the years was the impact that the many NatureBridge educators had on her students. It was the creative and imaginative ways that educators deliver concepts through touch, sound, feel and other senses. When learning went beyond a textbook at a desk, Joy saw her shyest students engage more willingly in the environment provided by Yosemite, the NatureBridge campus and its educators.

Joy's students snowshoeing at Crane Flat in Yosemite
Joy's students snowshoeing at Crane Flat in Yosemite

She recalled one particular program and day, sitting on a boulder wrapping up lunch with students and then Yosemite Institute educator Kristina Rylands, now the Yosemite Regional Director. All of a sudden they heard coyotes calling to each other across the valley. The students immediately stopped and listened, overwhelmed with curiosity. An engaging discussion on wildlife followed.

“It was so quieting, to be part of that communication, to hear those coyotes,” she said. “To understand how animals communicate with one another gives us such insight into the world of wildlife.”

Throughout her years chaperoning and teaching, Joy recognized students’ continued excitement in research and earth science was tied to the number of years they went through NatureBridge. She had a handful of students who attended NatureBridge for six years in a row.

I continue to choose to support NatureBridge because of its outreach to all students, its programs and its leaders who use the most creative and imaginative of ways to connect students to nature.

To this day, Joy’s favorite national park is Yosemite, especially in winter. She regularly brings her son (who participated in NatureBridge when he was in middle school) and her six-year-old  grandson (who says he wants to be a wildlife biologist) to Yosemite. As a young child herself, one of Joy’s favorite things to do was visit family in Kansas and explore their farm. 

“I would collect chicken eggs, climb around the hay loft, ride out to the fields on the family horse. At my grandparents, we would catch fireflies in jars and watch them light up and set up fireworks for the 4th of July.”

Bringing that connection full circle to her grandchildren today (she also has two granddaughters, one who is seven years old and already excited about rock climbing), along with her volunteer work at Eaton Canyon Nature Science is one of the most meaningful things to her.

“To be able to pass on my excitement for Yosemite National Park is meaningful—rewarding. I’m passing it on to my descendants,” she said. “I recall when we were in the WOBs [former YI cabins without baths], sitting along the Merced River looking up at Half Dome and watching the moon rise. The physical layout of the valley… it’s a feeling of closeness. You feel that closeness in the tall walls of granite. It kind of hits you on that emotional soul level.”

What inspires Joy about the next 50 years of NatureBridge? The notion that so many students can carry on the wonder of nature, inspiring stewardship and protection of wildlife—and not just by putting on a white lab coat and becoming a scientist.

My greatest hope is that each young person finds a connection with nature in some way and that they are able to express that connection through their vocation or avocation.

Joy Walters is a member of NatureBridge's monthly giving program, the Stewards Circle. By providing monthly support, Joy ensures students from all backgrounds learn about the science of nature, are inspired by its beauty and are motivated to take action to protect the natural world. Learn more about the Stewards Circle >>

NatureBridge is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2021! To celebrate, we're telling #50StoriesFor50Years highlighting the generations of students, teachers, staff and supporters that helped make our first 50 years possible. What does NatureBridge mean to you? Share your story with us at!

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