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Reflections from a Baxter Awardee
November 11, 2015 - 3:56pm


By: Stephen Abatiell

At NatureBridge, we foster environmental literacy to sustain our planet. That is our mission. The mission is pursued through the practice of our core values:

• We bring our best self.

• We learn, teach, and grow.

• We build open and honest relationships.

• We inspire awe in the beauty of life.

• We practice environmental stewardship.

• We are accountable.

For the past five years, I have had the opportunity to pursue my professional development with these values, first as an Environmental Science Educator in Yosemite and most recently as the Summer Programs Coordinator. Best Self I was given the opportunity to build my best self when I applied to the Matthew A. Baxter III Award in 2012. These awards aim to promote personal growth, adventure, and the professional development of NatureBridge staff. I designed a project that would push my personal boundaries, but was surprised by the professional growth I also experienced.  



Learn, Teach, and Grow

I used my Baxter Award to visit Vietnam with my father. Together, we documented the stories of people that were affected by the lasting environmental effects of chemical defoliants used during the war--people like my father, a Vietnam War veteran. We learned so much during this amazing experience and I have been inspired to share the stories of resilience, determination, and joy with my students and NatureBridge community, furthering the growth I experienced personally.



Building Relationships

My father and I learned from so many people while we were traveling, and we built life-long friendships at the Vietnam Friendship Village, a facility that provides care and education for Vietnam’s disabled youth, many of whom have been affected by the environmental impacts of the Vietnam War. My father has stayed in touch with one young volunteer from Hanoi in particular, and has given him guidance on everything from English homework essays to relationship advice.  It is amazing to me how powerful this simple relationship is given the context, a young man from Hanoi and an older US veteran who was once a young man in Vietnam, but under very different circumstances.



Awe Inspired by the Beauty in Life

The Vietnam Friendship Village is a beautiful community where the residents support each other to deal with the struggles and joys of life. I was inspired by this community and the Baxter Award recipients that came before me, to go deeper and get more involved. In 2013, I joined the board for Vietnam Friendship Village Project-USA. It has been great to remain connected to these incredible people by serving on this board. Professionally, this new opportunity has challenged and grown my skillsets by exposing me to communications, outreach, and fundraising.



Environmental Stewardship

At NatureBridge, we strive to be stewards of the environment and teach our students the benefits of being responsible with the resources we have. NatureBridge has lived up to this core value by generously donating recycled laptop computers to Vietnam Friendship Village Project-USA and diverting this potential e-waste to a good cause!    



We are Accountable

The laptops will go a long way toward the continued development and support of my friends in Vietnam, and I am grateful. Thank you NatureBridge for supporting and holding me accountable for the goals I have set for myself, my work environment, and my community.