Photo: Interns on a field day collecting live specimens at local tidepools. For completion of their year-long internships, the interns were awarded a hat, a certificate of service award, and a Nature Hero pin.
Tower Foundation grants awarded in 2019 and 2021 have helped the Massachusetts Audubon Society (Mass Audubon) pilot a program that creates vocational-transitional internship opportunities for teens and young adults with disabilities. Three Mass Audubon nature centers participated in the initial pilot including Felix Neck on Martha’s Vineyard, and Joppa Flats and Ipswich River (both in Essex County). These three sites hosted over 20 interns over a 40-week-period. Interns helped care for live animals, helped maintain trails and exhibits, and supported public education programs.
For Mass Audubon, this work builds on a genuine belief in inclusive practices. Since 2016, and recently renewed through the 2021-2025 period, Mass Audubon has been named a Universal Participant Designated Organization by the Massachusetts Cultural Council for participating in a learning network and demonstrating a commitment to inclusion and accessibility. In the spring of 2022, the Felix Neck center was recognized by the Island Disability Coalition for adaptive and inclusive programming. Mass Audubon’s Action Agenda states “Increasing Access to Nature” as one of their central organizational goals for 2021-2016.
Based on the success of the pilot, in the fall of 2022 Mass Audubon expanded the internship program to seven additional centers, bringing the total to ten. With training and implementation protocols in place, they look forward to accommodating interns with disabilities at all 20 centers within the next few years.
Mass Audubon’s program success has been driven, in part, by strong referral partners that work with each site. These partners are generally organizations that provide a range of services to young people with disabilities. The Ipswich River center recently developed a relationship with Salem State University; three occupational therapy graduate students joined the team in support roles.
Having enthusiastic interns that have a great amount of respect and care for the animals we have ensures our animals are receiving the best possible care. Joppa Flats is so fortunate to have these great vocational interns that are a great addition to our team! Each has brought different skill sets to Joppa. Joppa Flats strives to be a leading institution where education, leadership and stewardship come together and having vocational individuals as part of our support team, only adds to the unique blend of learning, animal husbandry and passion that makes our sanctuary so special.
– Lisa Hutchings, School and Family Education Coordinator